“Gina stayed at her parents for six months, and it was while she was there that she applied for the Zimmer. Exactly six months to the day she left, she walked into our tiny apartment, her eyes shining with hope and excitement as she showed me the Zimmer fellowship email. That night she didn’t go back to her parents’. We lay in one another’s arms all night long. Berlin. Maybe this was what we needed. A break from our breaking-apart life.”
When a young couple move to Berlin to save their relationship, they have no idea that they would discover people whose stories will influence their lives and decisions forever. Instead of the “break” they imagined they would benefit from, they discover a world few people know and even fewer want to enter. As the novel moves on, the unnamed narrator and his wife Gina meet people from around the world who migrated to Europe in search of a better life.
In this novel in which almost every chapter is told by a different narrator, the travelers’ lives open up another world for the reader: from a character in prison to one who moves from one country to another to save his daughter from a forced marriage, all of them have a story to tell and, by doing so, their stories become means for them to be acknowledged by the others as dignified humans and not only as anonymous migrants.
The narrator’s story that mirrors all the others reminds us of Waiting for An Angel. Helon Habila writes a masterful study of human lives in all their complexity, and even more so in the context of dramatic displacement, the perfect setting for seeing what people are ready to do to survive, to save their dignity, and to sacrifice for their loved ones. The brilliant, powerful stories in Habila’s novel show us that, at the end of the day, we are all travelers through life and we all live to connect with others on this journey.
Travelers by Helon Habila
978-0-393-23959-1 / Norton (2019)
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in African Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She is the author of a collection of short stories and a translator of books from French to Romanian. She is trilingual in Romanian, French and English, and teaches English language and literature to highschool students in France.