BookBrowse Reviews Travelers by Helon Habila

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


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


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book



In his latest novel, award-winning author Helon Habila provides a sensitive and intimate look at the the refugee crisis in Europe.

First Impressions readers felt enlightened and enriched by Helon Habila's Travelers, with 24 out of 30 respondents giving the book a four- or five-star rating.

What it's about:
So many immigrants are on the move around the world, for so many reasons, that it's hard to put ourselves in the shoes of these refugees, difficult to imagine their lives. Travelers humanizes this situation by pulling us inside the lives of a half dozen Africans attempting to resettle in Europe. The primary character, a Nigerian studying for his Ph.D. in America, goes abroad when his wife wins a fellowship. She will paint the portraits of these "travelers," but he will interact with them, getting deeply involved with some. In the process he will need to decide whether to go in the opposite direction and follow his roots back to Africa, whether to stay in Europe, or whether to return to America. Which path is right for him? For his fellow travelers? (Deborah W). Through the Nigerian student, we hear poignant stories: a one-time doctor who now works as a bouncer and shows up every Sunday at Checkpoint Charlie where he hopes to reunite with his lost wife, a shopkeeper who fled an al-Shabaab commander 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, a soon-to-be-deported young man on a hunger strike, and more (Jill S).

Readers found the novel to be relevant to contemporary debates about immigration:
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 (Jill S). The story is relevant to the current migration situation our own country is experiencing (Suzanne G). Habila is a marvelous writer telling a timely story (Jane B). The stories run seamlessly through the book making it a gradual opening of the reader's eyes to the realities of going to another place in hopes of freedom, safety or opportunity. A timely book for our uneasy times (Liz D).

Consequently, some readers imagined it might help build empathy for refugees:
One-to-one, we can better understand the desperation of immigrant families, learn how refugees are treated, and see the consequences of governmental policies; not through polemics or statistics but through stories of human beings like ourselves, people who want to have better lives for their children and opportunities for themselves (Deborah W). Initially one is just drawn to someone like themselves--American--but little by little the view is widened and seasoned with the experiences and feelings of other characters. The events are interwoven into a tapestry reflecting the current state of the world. This becomes not a "story to tell" but rather a saga of pain, empathy and heartbreak. I keep reflecting on how I would handle the need to leave my country of origin with no idea what to expect in my new home (Linda V).

In addition to addressing important issues, many expressed admiration for the author's writing skills:
Habila's writing is almost poetic in some of his descriptions, and he has a firm mastery of characterization and plot. He draws the reader into the narrative and makes us care deeply about the immigrants and their fates (Anne C). He is a writer of quiet power. His characters take you into their lives with the simple telling of their quest for a human connection, a place to make a living for themselves and their families (Claire M). This book is exquisitely written. The author draws you into each person's life as a refugee and you can almost feel their grief, hunger or hope (Carol F). It was an absolute honor to read this book and a double honor to review it. The author's style is so flawless and transparent that it disappears; you feel you're suddenly in the very scene that is unfolding (Elizabeth T).

Overall, readers were deeply moved:
How does someone so "different" from me create such profound and lovely people with whom I can relate so deeply, heart to heart? (Elizabeth T). The author's empathy is so evident. This is a beautifully written book (Suzanne G). I highly recommend this novel. Each refugee carries a story of tragedy, grief, love and hope that speaks to the human condition (Suzette P).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2019, and has been updated for the August 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Travelers, try these:

  • American Dirt jacket

    American Dirt

    by Jeanine Cummins

    Published 2022

    About this book

    Hailed as "a Grapes of Wrath for our times" and "a new American classic", American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.

    American Dirt is the first book to ever score a perfect 5-stars in BookBrowse's early reader program, First Impressions--and we've reviewed more than ...

  • After the Last Border jacket

    After the Last Border

    by Jessica Goudeau

    Published 2021

    About this book

    The story of two refugee families and their hope and resilience as they fight to survive and belong in America.

We have 8 read-alikes for Travelers, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Helon Habila
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

BookBrowse Sale!

Join BookBrowse and discover exceptional books for just $3/mth!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Wifedom
    by Anna Funder
    When life became overwhelming for writer, wife, and mother Anna Funder in the summer of 2017, she ...
  • Book Jacket: The Fraud
    The Fraud
    by Zadie Smith
    In a recent article for The New Yorker, Zadie Smith joked that she moved away from London, her ...
  • Book Jacket: Wasteland
    by Oliver Franklin-Wallis
    Globally, we generate more than 2 billion tons of household waste every year. That annual total ...
  • Book Jacket: Disobedient
    by Elizabeth Fremantle
    Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia Gentileschi led a successful career as an artist throughout the ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Fair Rosaline
by Natasha Solomons
A subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Digging Stars
    by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

    Blending drama and satire, Digging Stars probes the emotional universes of love, friendship, family, and nationhood.

  • Book Jacket

    The September House
    by Carissa Orlando

    A dream home becomes a haunted nightmare in this compulsively readable, twisty, and layered debut novel.

Win This Book
Win Moscow X

25 Copies to Give Away!

A daring CIA operation threatens chaos in the Kremlin. But can Langley trust the Russian at its center?



Solve this clue:

A M I A Terrible T T W

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.