Travellers by Helon Habila
Published by: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Random House UK)
Release Date: June 2019
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher (Review Copy)
Modern Europe is a melting pot of migrating souls: among them a Nigerian American couple on a prestigious arts fellowship, a transgender film student seeking the freedom of authenticity, a Libyan doctor who lost his wife and child in the waters of the Mediterranean, and a Somalian shopkeeper trying to save his young daughter from forced marriage. And, though the divide between the self-chosen exiles and those who are forced to leave home may feel solid, in reality such boundaries are endlessly shifting and frighteningly soluble.
Moving from a Berlin nightclub to a Sicilian refugee camp to the London apartment of a Malawian poet, Helon Habila evokes a rich mosaic of migrant experiences. And through his characters’ interconnecting fates, he traces the extraordinary pilgrimages we all might make in pursuit of home.
In Travellers, Helon Habila tells immigration stories designed not to elicit reactions or emotions but takes a look at immigrants and their various motivations for seeking greener pastures. The characters in this book all have various reasons for abandoning their homes. From escaping violence and terrorism to a quest for acceptance to trying to build a new life or fix a broken one.
One thing I noted in Travellers by Helon Habila, was the breed of immigrant being examined. These are not people simply moving for economic reasons. Like the most common kind that lives abroad and comes back home once a year. The people in this book are essentially in exile.
Separated from all that was familiar with no hope of ever going back. the characters in this book are somewhat tragic. Where they are not tragic, they are unbelievable. Most notable for me was the nameless main character who serves as a thread connecting the stories of the various travellers across continents.
Travellers by Helon Habila really triggered me emotionally, if I’m being honest.
A major theme in this book was fleeting love. Naturally. as we watched these humans move from place to place, sometimes losing everything, you want them to at least find some anchor in love. But no, these poor souls seem to love with all the intensity of a gas flare. Burning hot and going out just as quickly.
For a closet romantic, this was incredibly depressing. However, I would admit that this makes sense given the fabric of the characters and the situations they find themselves in.
One thing I did enjoy was the love affair with the main setting: Berlin. It was at once daunting and charming. I think any city described as having a bookstore on every other block has my admiration already.
There isn’t much I don’t like about this book. My big gripe would be the liberal use of over the top grammar, I know Helon Habila is a professor. But I wasn’t appreciating the English lessons here especially when simpler words would have worked better. Also. the author goes off on musings that I sometimes found stereotypical and very questionable.
Smooth read, very easy to digest.
The writing flows so smoothly, I was legit irritated every time some word jarred me out of the flow to use the dictionary. This was my first Helon Habila fiction after I struggled with Oil on Water in 2016. I am, however, motivated to give him another chance.