Summary and book reviews of Travelers by Helon Habila

Travelers

A Novel

by Helon Habila

Travelers by Helon Habila X
Travelers by Helon Habila
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2020, 304 pages

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Book Summary

A startlingly imaginative exploration of the African diaspora in Europe, by one of our most acclaimed international writers.

Award-winning author Helon Habila has been described as "a courageous tale teller with an uncompromising vision…a major talent" (Rawi Hage). His new novel Travelers is a life-changing encounter with those who have been uprooted by war or aspiration, fear or hope.

A Nigerian graduate student who has made his home in America knows what it means to strike out for new shores. When his wife proposes that he accompany her to Berlin, where she has been awarded a prestigious arts fellowship, he has his reservations: "I knew every departure is a death, every return a rebirth. Most changes happen unplanned, and they always leave a scar."

In Berlin, Habila's central character finds himself thrown into contact with a community of African immigrants and refugees whose lives previously seemed distant from his own, but to which he is increasingly drawn. The walls between his privileged, secure existence and the stories of these other Africans on the move soon crumble, and his sense of identity begins to dissolve as he finds that he can no longer separate himself from others' horrors, or from Africa.

A lean, expansive, heart-rending exploration of loss and of connection, Travelers inscribes unforgettable signposts―both unsettling and luminous―marking the universal journey in pursuit of love and home.

1

We came to Berlin in the fall of 2012, and at first everything was fine. We lived on Vogelstrasse, next to a park. Across the road was an Apotheke, and next to that a retirement home, and next to that a residential school for orphans. The school was once a home for single mothers, but eventually the mothers moved on and only the children were left. The school is made up of two cheerless structures— one noticeably newer than the other— behind waist- high cinder- block walls and giant fir trees. In the evenings the children ran in the park, jumping on trampolines and kicking around balls, their voices cutting through the frigid air clear as the bell ringing. In the mornings they sat in the courtyard behind the short fence to craft wooden animals and osier baskets under the watchful eyes of their minders. Once, out early with Gina, one of the boys, anywhere between the ages of eight and ten, sighted us and rushed to the low wall, he leaned over the top, almost vaulting over...

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Reviews

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Helon Habila 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). 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)...continued

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Media Reviews

The New Yorker
The book’s elaborate depiction of a range of personal sacrifices brings into focus the human tragedies obscured by statistics and discussions of public policy.

The Guardian
[T]his is the novel’s greatest triumph – to conjure in the reader the seemingly irreconcilable feelings of both intense revivification and displacement. By the end, you feel as though you, too, are seeing what Europe means afresh: its racism, its confusion, its attraction, its incoherence, its safeties. But you are also full of stories of African conflict, dispossession and human suffering. Again and again, Habila asks the deepest questions about the relationship of Europe to Africa and Africa to Europe. And with great skill, he makes the unfamiliar familiar and vice versa. What more can you ask of a novel?

Publishers Weekly
The plight of contemporary African refugees is the dramatic core of this moving tale...Readers will find this novel a potent tale for these times.

Kirkus Reviews
A powerful novel about African migrants that suffers from flat characters and prose.

Library Journal (starred review)
Through six interconnected sections, Caine Prize winner and Chinua Achebe Fellow Habila evokes the visceral, heartbreaking anguish of the outsider's dilemma: to assimilate or return to the land one calls home. Guaranteed to promote empathy and understanding for refugees worldwide.

Author Blurb Leila Aboulela, author of The Kindness of Enemies and Elsewhere, Home
Once I started reading Travelers, I couldn't stop. It's an unsettling book that faces the urgent questions of our times and doesn't settle for easy answers. Yet the resilience of the characters, the mature decision to avoid melodrama, gives us a novel full of hope and wonder, tied to fully realized characters that as readers, we come to care about. I loved this book. It is indeed Habila at his best.

Author Blurb Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers
Urgent, deeply empathetic, and resisting easy answers, Travelers follows the interconnected lives of African immigrants and refugees in Europe and examines the meanings of freedom, diaspora and home. Habila is a masterful storyteller, and this novel a riveting testament to the power of fiction.

Author Blurb Vu Tran, author of Dragonfish
A moving and eye-opening novel that captures our global political moment and plumbs the many layers of life in exile, of people who are forever bereft in their 'traveling'. Helon Habila writes with the eye of a journalist, the tools of an artist, and the heart of a sober and compassionate witness.

Author Blurb Aminatta Forna, author of Happiness and The Memory of Love
At once intimate and expansive, Travelers captivated me from the very first pages.

Author Blurb Elliot Ackerman, author of Waiting for Eden
I enjoyed Travelers immensely. Habila has written a pressure cooker of a story, an urgent novel that contends with the rootlessness of our world.

Author Blurb Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Unforgettable. Helon Habila writes of individual lives?pulled apart by our wars, our failed states and our deepest fears?with insight and searing compassion.

Reader Reviews

Lavonne Roberts

The beauty of love within displacement
This is the most beautiful book I've read in years and one I couldn't put down. How often does that happen? The author is a true storyteller--the kind who you'd want telling your life story because he sees the humanity in his characters in a way ...   Read More

Audrey M. (Overland Park, KS)

Travelers
I was blown away by this book. The author points out the trials and tribulations of newly arrived immigrants from Africa in Europe. The language. The sense of dislocation, the change in climate, the racism, the sense of being caught between the old ...   Read More

Rosemarie M, Charlotte NC (librarian)

Travelers-- An Immigrant Tapestry
The beauty of this book for me was in the way the characters are connected that is not at first visible. It is like a tapestry with many stories that share a common thread. Being a granddaughter of immigrants from western and southern Europe to the U...   Read More

Shirley F. (The Villages, FL)

Sad truth of the immigrant experience
This story of African immigrants to Europe paints a very human picture of immigration. The author shows a deep understanding of people, their families and their desire for freedom, safety,opportunities for a better life. At the same time, he shows ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Dehumanization of Refugees in Europe

Two migrants talking at the San Ferdinando camp before its destructionAccording to the UN Refugee Agency, over 40,000 refugees arrived in Europe in the first seven months of 2019, the vast majority from the war-torn nations of Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco and Iraq. Another 668 have died or gone missing on their journey. The total number of arrivals for 2018 was 141,472, with 2,277 dead or missing. While these numbers are alarmingly large, they are a fraction of the totals from 2015 when the crisis reached its peak and over one million refugees sought shelter in Europe, with 3,771 dead or missing (which is in itself a fraction of the total number of over 16 million people who have been displaced by post-9/11 conflicts). In addition to those from the Middle East, the Pew Research Center, reports nearly one ...

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