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Monday, October 18, 2010

MEASURING TIME by Helon Habila

       (Measuring Time, a book by Helon Habila)


It's Measuring Time.

There's so much controversy on what qualities a classic novel should command. In some quarters it is strongly held that a classic novel should be able to spread its themes around things that happen not only in its locality but issues that the world could always be reflected through. This, it is believed, will make it withstand the tear and test of time years after it has been published.  Other divides strongly argue that for a novel to be classic it must be able to maintain a mesmerising storyline that creatively discusses stories of the past with engaging writing proficiency. Helon Habila's Measuring Time weaves through this controversy without a fault. It integrates the known characteristics that a good classic piece should possess – a good storyline, aptitude of writing skill, universal themes and an engaging literary deftness that set it apart from others of its kind. Measuring Time is a book that its contents could not be hurriedly devoured without a strong and thorough analysis of how the themes, plot and characters relate with the situation that humanity still battles with. To put it succinctly, Measuring Time is a book that is entertaining as well as it is reflective. Helon Habila has not only written a book, he has painted Africa's history and the origin of our pains.

Measuring Time is the history of a father, Lamang, whose daring promiscuous trait crowns him as the king of women. His astuteness in the game of womanising earns him the wealth he is bestowed with by his in-law, Saraya's father. His unappeasable thirst for political clout sees him to a dishonourable end.  Measuring Time is the times of Lamang's twins, Mamo and LaMamo, whose Health and intellectual differences never allow them to pursue the same dream that will ensure their fame. One remains a school teacher and a biographer in Keti, the other becomes a rebel-fighter who witnesses the various gory wars across Africa. It is also the turbulence of Zara, who struggles not to succeed under a man's influence; this faces her with the incomplete and battered life she is determined to repair. Measuring Time uniquely narrates the greedy nature of African leaders and how the danger of it affects all - this is the shameful royal story of Mai and Waziri who assume the position of a demigod to the disadvantage of the people they are to serve.

The ''It's'' In the Themes

It's a man's world: Years after the death of Lamang's wife, Saraya, Lamang still dazzles the women of Keti with his unique sexual masculinity. His house readily houses the four widows that come in turns to entertain him and jostle for his attention. Despite the rivalry and game of wits that exist between the four widows that are always in strong craving for Lamang's notice, they are never perturbed to gatecrash at Lamang's house in as much as they get a fair share of his treatment.

Zara's quest for marital contentment and self actualisation is never realised. Zara maintains a strong belief that women should never be shadows of men's successes. She refuses to be cowed and maltreated in her home by her husband, Captain George. Zara's search for a marital bliss brings her back to Keti where she teaches at Keti Community School. Not even the sexual gratification she gets from Mamo can make her find the inner peace she seeks for. Zara is a symbolic figure of women debasement, suffering and inferiority. She is stripped of the comfort of her only child as her husband goes about smooching and banging women at every corner, occasion and back-seat of any available car.


 It's political deceitfulness: At the arrival of electricity in Keti, the numbers of bulbs that are powered in front of your house decides how politically viable you are. Electricity is a signal of sway and power that the people of Keti quickly associate with. In his effort to stand out as the man that should hold the chairmanship of Victory Party, Lamang woos the people's support when he turns his compound to a viewing centre as he combines the magical power of T.V., electricity and free food to glean Keti's acceptance for his political pursuit. Alhaji Danladi betrays Lamang as he floors Lamang at the general meeting of the party where manifesto presentation is the determinant of whoever is going to win. Alhaji Danladi steals and rehashes the idea of Lamang's Reverse-Osmosis plan to emerge as the Victory Party's general chairman.

The motive of re-welcoming Lamang to the Victory Party is the quite opposite of what Lamang has in mind.  He is re-accepted into the party only to join force with Alhaji Dalandi for the general election and not to be given a seat as the chairman of the local council of Keti as Lamang thinks.

Asarba's position as the personal assistant to Lamang and Head of Youths of Lamang's new party, New Victory Party, is not to only rally the youths of Keti for Lamang, but also to build a gang of fraud that will always be available to 'trade' election boxes and stuff them with fake thumb printed materials.


It's the aftermaths of war: War does not only finish and rest at the cease of gunshots, display of furious glowing swords, the gushing of blood and the shrieks of pains on the battle field. It goes on as we battle to free ourselves from the memories we are left with and the fettering bruises that we are to nurse. Haruna, Lamang's brother, returns years after the civil war has ended to combat with his. He struggle with his own war of memory-lapse when he can't vividly recall what occur before and during the war. He goes perfunctorily about the same routine that his loneliness and personal emptiness create for him. He is adored and celebrated as a man who returns when everybody thinks he is dead. No one can really understand why he ends his life with a rope when he hangs himself, but the reader is given a chance to see how he could have been frustrated. Uncle Haruna's life becomes staid and less exciting. His existence becomes only a subject of tolerance.

LaMamo never lives better to tell the story of his experiences as a soldier who survives the numerous African wars that he withstands as a rebel fighter and guerrilla. He outlives the wars he fights with an eye. He returns back to Keti as a one-eye-patched-old-solider whose temperament later leads the revolt in Keti that claims his life.

Auntie Marina, Lamang's sister, is retired to the bed after the unreasonable 'apostolic' and 'jihad' war that rocks the ambience and the peaceful co-existence of Keti. She spends some days behind bars because she is among the Christian fanatics that spearhead the irascible battle against her religion counterpart. She is brought back home after few weeks in the hospital to recuperate from the pains the religions crisis causes her.


It's the insincerity of misguided faith: The religious war that involves the Hausa-Fulani Muslim and the Christian faithful of Keti upturns the serenity of keti and turns peaceful houses to dugouts where people shield their heads from stray gunshots. The religious battle erupts when the Christians are singing their hosanna tunes on their way to war in prayer with the element that has inflicted Keti with draught. The Muslim brethrens follow suit in order not to be outsmarted in bringing rescue to Keti by praying down rains. The mountain in Keti becomes the same venue for the two religion groups. The Christians are irritated; a stone flies first from one camp to the other and the war is set; the war that changes what Keti is always known for – peace.

This does not Measure up...

One is constantly forced to search for words in the dictionary, or in a case when your dictionary is updated from those words, with Google. I don't mean scouring for normal English words, what you will be forced to look up meanings for are foreign and unlike words (like Latin, Greek and French) that could simply put one off the reading. Though this might actually turn out to be an add-up to your vocabulary-sense, but it is still considered unnecessary when there are many local words that can be permutated into English to pass out strong messages more than what their foreign counterparts would do.

·        You might not know what great thing is missing from your collection of books until you lay your hands on "Measuring Time". It is not just another fiction of great imaginative strength coupled with intense ardour; it is a compact piece that shuffles history in best words, imageries and stories possible. I love this book!!!


  1. This is a good book, I started it slowly but had to finish once hooked. Helon is a writer to admire. Great review Joseph.

  2. It's really a good book to read too. My speed on finishing it up wasn't encouraging anyway, but I'm glad I did. It's a classic indeed.
    Thanks for commenting Myne. Have a wonderful day!

  3. It was a book that carried one like you just boarded a bus for a journey

  4. @Nnadozie. It sure really is. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. I am on the final stages of the book. Lamamo died and Bintou is coming to the village. Thanks I picked this book, just amazing!!
    Recently I am discovering some incredible Nigerian writes, last year was Chimamanda N. Adichie. These days, the best Literature written in English comes from Africa or Asia, no doubt!!

  6. @NAMIBIANO. The book is that so good. I am glad you pick the book up. I will like to know your final thought on the book when you are through. Please get back soon to share that with the blog.

    Thanks for dropping by and I hope you will come around soon.

    Cheers! Keep reading.

  7. I wonder why we Nigerians are always satisfied with mediocrity. The book definitely does not deserve the glowing reviews. it was the rambling of a writer who does not know what to do either with the theme or the characters. I quote part of a review in the new York times "“Measuring Time” itself gives discomforting hints of being part of a larger project. Plot lines are picked up and discarded. Even when LaMamo returns from the wars, he remains a vague figure and is quickly dropped, as if Habila doesn’t remember why he was interested in him. In the end the book meanders to a halt, as if overwhelmed by its own despondency. But this somehow seems a fitting end to a melancholy narrative of a fight against decay, a struggle for hope in a cynical world.

    Hari Kunzru

  8. @Hari Kunzru. Hey Hari, don't carry your generalisation that far. Not all Nigerians are known to be satisfied with mediocrity, only a sizeable few are. You see, that's what literature is all about; it makes different meanings to our individual psyches. You can always be appreciated for your views about a book, which is good. But when you think the way you see a work of literature must be the same manner others see it, then literature becomes a boring thing.

    I appreciate your view, Hari, but it is your generalisation I have an issue with. As for me, Measuring Time still remains one of my favourite titles. Thanks for dropping by, I hope to see you around soon for further discussions on the book or on other matters. Thanks.

  9. measuring time is an encouraging. try and have your and read the content of the book.

  10. Tamuno Henry InemotimiJuly 12, 2012 at 12:12 AM

    measuring time is an encouraging. try and have your and read the content of the book.

  11. @Tamuno. Yeah, the book is a good read. Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope to have you here soon.

  12. please can someone help me with the list of characters in this book "measuring time"


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