Read advance reader review of Travelers by Helon Habila, page 3 of 4

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A Novel

by Helon Habila

Travelers by Helon Habila X
Travelers by Helon Habila
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 288 pages

    Aug 2020, 304 pages


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  • Jill S. (Chicago, IL)
    The tales and humanity of refugees
    Travelers is about the stories and secrets that African refugees and asylum seekers carry, the colorful past that helps answer the question, "Where am I? Who am I? How did I get here?" It's about how we remain human when a loss of identity and sense of dislocation begin closing in, and what we cling to to find the resilience to move ahead. With successive chapters that introduce interweaving characters, it is a tour de force.

    Right at the center of the vortex is a Nigerian student whose marriage to his American wife is flailing. While in Berlin, he meets a number of Africans who have fled their home. Through their connections, we hear the poignant stories: a one-time doctor who now works as a bouncer and who shows up every Sunday at Checkpoint Charlie where he hopes to reunite with his lost wife. A shopkeeper who fled an al-Shabaab commander who was determined to marry his 10-year-old daughter. A young woman who visits her husband's Swiss ex-wife who stood trial for his murder. An amnesiac woman who lost her fleeing family and is schooled to believe she is someone else. A soon-to-be-deported young man on a hunger strike. The narrator, too, gets a taste of what it means to be in a refugee camp after a mishap with his papers.

    At a time in the world's history when refugees are dehumanized and lumped into one category – "the other" – Habila refuses to let us rest on that complacency.
  • Donna N. (Sherwood, OR)
    I enjoyed the premise of the book. Travelers meaning those that have left their countries to escape, find a better life, to be in a different place. I think it had an excellent message but there were times when the language of the writer and the reader caused confusion. I did like the concept.
  • Susan P. (Mount Vernon, WA)
    A Look into the Alienation of the African Diaspora
    This is a book I would recommend to my book club. It is a look into the immigrant struggles with always being on the outside looking in. The characters in the book are describing the various ways one can feel alienated from the culture and society in their adopted country as well as their anguish with societal minimization. The stories are well fitted to the immigrant stories we hear on the news each evening here in the U.S.A. The sensitivity the author exhibits in describing the people and each one's stories ring with truth and conviction.
  • Louise E. (Ocean View, DE)
    I enjoyed reading Travelers by Helon Habila. The book is well written and you get a thorough picture of what recent refugees have gone through and continue to go through with the hope of finding a safe place to live. It was fun finding the connection to each of the stories and the characters. This is the first book I've read on the recent refugee crisis and their stories were eye opening. I learned a lot through the description of each person's journey and I found myself rooting for them especially Juma. I am going to recommend it to my book club, there is lots to discuss.
  • Suzette P. (Chicago, IL)
    Timely and Poignant Stories of Refugees
    "Travelers" is a timely and poignant account of immigrants, emigrants, and refugees in a series of six interconnected sections, each individual seeking happiness and safety but encountering loss and trauma along the way. An ex-pat Nigerian grad student travels from the US to Berlin with his wife and later becomes involved with African refugees fleeing war and poverty. Their stories are deeply affecting and Habila writes in a matter-of-fact but beautiful way.

    However, it's a bit of a frustrating read because certain things create a distance between the reader and the characters. For example, the grad student remains nameless throughout the book, although he is the connective tissue for the rest of the characters. And a refugee on a hunger strike is seen almost completely through the prism of others and through the refugee's written account of his travails instead of actual interaction with him, although it is his account that propels the grad student to make a life-changing decision. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this novel. Each refugee carries a story of tragedy, grief, love, and hope that speaks to the human condition.
  • Patricia T. (Fallbrook, CA)
    All over the world there are displaced people on the move. This is the story of a group from Africa trying to find a place for themselves in Europe. The main protagonist already has a place. He is privileged, an educated Nigerian in Germany with his American wife, who herself is there on an Art Fellowship. In one of the six separate, but related, stories that comprise this book, he loses the bag containing his passport and papers, and thus begins a nightmare experience. He gets a taste of what it is like for those refugees and asylum seekers who travelled to Europe on dangerous and flimsy boats, seeing family members drown, losing everything. This for me was the most telling of the six stories, though they were all harrowing, though very human. The prose is formal and correct, and although the desperation and horrors were explained in detail, I found there was a strange lack of any deep emotion. Maybe the people had been through too much, been too traumatized to feel, and this was deliberate.
  • Joy E. (Rockville, MD)
    So Many Reasons to Leave Your Home Country
    In a beautifully written series of six interwoven stories about African refugees in Europe, Travelers by Helon Habila is an effort to put a human face on the mass movement of people seeking peace and safety. As the stories fold into each other, the characters suffer ever greater traumas. There are no happy endings here. The travelers may not always make good decisions, but in their struggle to take control of their own destinies they have limited options.

    Although the setting is Europe and Africa, the stories could easily be told of our own hemisphere. Bad things happen to good people everywhere. This book succeeds because it provides some insight in our confusing, distressing world.

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