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Measuring Time: A Novel Paperback – February 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the late 1970s, twin brothers LaMamo and Mamo Lamang dream of leaving their Nigerian village to find fame and fortune. When they're 16, LaMamo runs away and joins various rebel factions fighting in West Africa, while his sickly brother, Mamo, stays behind with their belligerent father (their mother died in childbirth) and becomes a brilliant student. LaMamo's occasional letters let Mamo live vicariously but, more importantly, lets Habila (Waiting for an Angel) reinforce his work's central message—that the biographies of ordinary individuals provide the real stuff of history. As Mamo becomes the history teacher at a local school, LaMamo actually lives history, meeting Charles Taylor and witnessing the anarchic chaos of West Africa in the 1980s and '90s. Mamo embarks on a career as a chronicler of "biographical history" (modeled on Plutarch's Parallel Lives), beginning with a history of his village and his culture. Like his wayward brother, Mamo witnesses events that force him to examine his conscience. Habila fleshes out the novel with memorable secondary characters—a thuggish cousin, a damaged idealist love interest, an especially Machiavellian bureaucrat. The fresh, brilliant result contrasts cultural traditions with contemporary bureaucracy and reimagines a country through the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of its citizens. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

In a penetrating story of contemporary Nigeria, twin brothers want to escape their village of Keti, and war seems the best way to fame and glory. But Mamo has sickle-cell disease, and he must stay home, reading his brother's letters about adventures across the border and, later, about the brutal wars in which he fights. The twins' wealthy politician father rejects the "weak," sickly son, but an uncle inspires Mamo to attend university, read widely, and teach; by the time the soldier returns many years later, Mamo has been offered work as palace biographer, but, instead of the expected hagiography, he writes a true history of his people; inspired by Plutarch, he tells the stories of individual people, "farmers, workers, housewives." Prizewinning Nigerian writer Habila does just that, too, portraying with great immediacy the twins' extended family, their lovers, and neighbors. Best of all is the realistic drama of tradition and modernity--the evils of both but also the rich possibilities that come with their complex interaction. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 383 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (February 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393052516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393052510
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #966,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Helon Habila was born in Nigeria. He has lived in Lagos, Norwich, New York, Washington DC, Berlin, and currently teaches creative writing at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. His writing has won the Caine Prize, the Commonwealth Prize (Waiting for an Angel), the Emily Balch Prize, the Virginia Library Foundation Fiction Prize (Measuring Time), and shortlisted for many others. In 2013 he edited the Granta Book of African Short Story. He is currently working on his fourth novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on June 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Measuring Time" is the story of twin brothers, their family and the people that shaped them. Living in rural Nigeria, village life and the natural environment add atmosphere and context. Habila's story-telling talent are evident in numerous ways. His own narrative of people and events is interwoven with those of his protagonist Mamo, who in later years writes about the people around him and thereby becomes a recorder of the local history. Giving Mamo the dual voice of the growing boy/young adult of the story time line and the retrospective commentary of the future biographer, the author creates an even richer portrayal of the main characters and the times they live in.

Mamo, the first born of the twins, inherited sickle cell anemia from his mother, who died in child birth. From an early age Mamo, fragile and prone to health crises, does not expect to grow into adulthood. This makes him reflective and withdrawn, always waiting for something to happen: first death, later on fame, fortune or something else. Expectations and dreams change over time. The younger twin, LaMamo, on the other hand, is a rambunctious youth who "acts before he thinks". Together they make a complete person, one balancing the other's character.

Among the many things uniting them, hatred for their father stands above all else. They are convinced that he made their mother's life so miserable that she died at a young age. Fortunately, they are taken to their uncle Ilya for the first few years of their lives. Then auntie Marina, their father's sister, comes to live with them, dedicating her life to the well being of the boys. Eventually, the young men plan their escape: there are wars being fought in neighbouring countries and they believe that they can make their fortune.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S.A.I on April 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
Many will tell you that this book is the epic life narrative of a pair of twins. It is indeed that but what I read is much bigger. The plot is not set within a larger backdrop nor is it a narrative as seen through the eyes of Mamo the major protagonist. I read the complete history of a town - Keti and it was a well imagined and well rendered past, present and future history.

First off, I must compare this book to Habila's debut novel. The themes of time are common to both novels. The titles of both novels alone give this away. Both major protagonists are also writers which makes me wonder if both of these characters reflect some true aspects of Mr Habila himself and if he is projecting himself through them.
Where both books differ vastly is that Measuring Time is a utterly more confident book. It does not doubt itself and this alone makes it beautiful.

All the characters in Measuring Time are fleshed out and given skin and bones. He does not attempt to always explain them or their motives but he makes them realistic. Of course, there are a few characters here and there who serve as necessary plot devices but with this book I can forgive Mr Habila. I could not forgive him for those in Waiting For An Angel.

I also really like the deft way in which he challenges unfair social frameworks and questionable traditions without sounding preachy.

He brings the village of Keti and its citizens to a vivid life and reminds us through Mamo that even though intelligence can be greatly enhanced by education, it is not supplied by formal education. Also you will turn the final page feeling that home is where the heart is.

This is a great book. A fantastic narrative work. Recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lara A on March 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book was told in such a 'peaceful' tempo that you are immediately and suddenly pulled in. Habila writes so beautifully. I made a copy of the pages in which Mamo and Iliya discuss culture and kept it in my journal- he was insightful in the way he gave voice to the thoughts I and many others have about how important it is to do away with the obsolete, unprogressive parts of culture. Excellent work Habila, just absolutely excellent.
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