Essence Ward Recommends

“The man dies in him who stands silent in the face of tyranny.” The words are Wole Soyinka’s, a longtime critic of Nigerian corruption and brutality. When first quoted by a student organizer in Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel, the rallying cry ushers in a demonstration that, despite the rubber bullets, teargas and temporary shuttering of the university, leave the campus heady with triumph. But a few pages later, a character unhinged by the sudden death of his parents and sister, launches into a speech with this phrase and is carried off by security agents; their vicious beating seals his insanity.

Such is the ambiguous but no less astute commentary on the wisdom of protest that flows throughout this novel. At its end, which is actually the beginning of the story, the fate of the central character, Lomba, who has raised his voice against the regime, remains unknown. Still, what is fully resolved, is Habila’s accomplishment in crafting a story that remains all too rare in contemporary fiction. It is an intimate look into the soul of a young, African man who has prioritized artistic expression, intellectual diligence and emotional honesty.

Essence Ward is a freelance radio producer living in Atlanta.