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Measuring Time: A Novel Paperback – February 17, 2007
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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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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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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. However, Mamo has another fever attack brought on by his anemia and, at the designated time, only LaMamo can leave. Mamo remains behind and withdraws even more from his surroundings. His father ignores him, but fortunately uncle Iliya takes him under his intellectual and emotional wing. He encourages Mamo to continue his studies and, later on, to join his community school as a history teacher. There he crosses paths with his childhood friend, Zara. His life takes a new turn as a result, in more ways than one. Meanwhile, LaMamo's progress or lack thereof in fighting other people's wars is conveyed through long letters to his brother that arrive sporadically. Will they ever meet again?
This is not just the story of one family, although the individuals stand in the centre of events. Uncle Ilija, who fought in several wars, has turned all his energy into maintaining the village school and to bring understanding and wisdom to those around him. The twin's father, a wealthy businessman, attempts a political career with mixed results, allowing the author to expose the many problems of the political system in the recently turned independent state of Nigeria. Habila has not only created vivid characters that stay in the reader's mind, he has skilfully broadened and deepened the narrative to include a rich account of Nigerian tradition and customs as they have evolved in this part of the country. Keeping his story personal and centred on a group of distinct characters, he finds a sensitive balance between the intimate and the historical context. His evocative power of description, whether of landscapes or human beings, is complemented by his skill as a story teller in the rich African tradition. As a human interest story it reaches audiences beyond those interested in Africa. [Friederike Knabe]
Mamo and LaMamo are twins whose mother died at their birth. Their father Lamang's sister - Aunt Marina - takes care of them. Mamo has sickle-cell anaemia and is constantly sick. LaMamo is the physically stonger of the two and is preferred by their father, although there is a palpable distance between father and sons.
LaMamo becomes a mercenary in the brutal civil war in Liberia and loses an eye. He plans to marry Bintou - a young woman that he had saved from being raped. Mamo stays in Keti and is commisioned through the Waziri to write the biography of the Mai.
Sometimes the book was humorous, sometimes sad and other times philosophical. Many excellent descriptions although sometimes I felt the story needed to pick up some steam. The well scam and Prince were helpful in this regard(302). I liked the discussion of tradition that Mamo had with his uncle Ilya, who states that behind most customs there is a "motive rigged to serve some elite, some self-styled custodian of our culture." He warns Mamo to be wary of exclusion, which is never the answer."It is what gives rise to facism and all sorts of racial and religious fundamentalism. We are pure, you are not; we are superior, you are inferior." Very well put!
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.