Book Title: Measuring Time
Author: Helon Habila
Lamang is the subject of this first sentence: “They had decided long ago to make life difficult for their father.” Thus at first glance he seems to deserve antagonism; he is the kind of character that is not a favourite. Yet, an incisive peek at the story suggests otherwise for me.
Measuring Time by Helon Habila is, indeed, a book about time. The story’s triumph is in its ability to speak as though the past, present and future are always fused into an infinite cord. It is the story of Mamo, his twin brother LeMamo, their father Lamang, Mamo’s lover Zara, as well as a montage of other memorable characters. The novel charts the turbulent history of a family – the death of the mother of the twins, LaMamo’s engagement with a rebel group and his death in a riot, the rise and fall of Lamang, the mental instability of Zara, the inordinate ambition of the Waziri and Mamo’s involvement with palace politics – and this turbulence is only a foreground for the recent turbulent history of Nigeria.
I am not concerned, however, with detailing the plot of the novel. Lamang’s role and person strikes me for certain reasons. Yes, agreed, he is the philandering and domineering father of the twins, who married their mother because of the wealth he was promised. His life is one that suggests that is only human to seek power, to assert one’s self, to stamp one’s individuality on others, and to fight for survival. He does this, first, by agreeing to marry a woman he did not love. Then many years later he becomes a politician, returning to his party even after he is shamed by them, and dying slowly after the party dumps him for a second time. He is typical, yet untypical, of today’s Nigerian politicians. He certainly seeks power in a diehard manner, employing his nephew to rig on his behalf. But what distinguishes Lamang is his ability to feel, and more importantly how he confronts his guilt. “We all have our secret pains, our personal anguish. It is life,” he says.
Reviewed by: Emmanuel Iduma (Ogba, Lagos)