Travelers by Helon Habila [in Booklist]
Reminiscent of Arthur Schnitzler’s late-19th-century play La Ronde (and the dozens of multi-genre adaptations since), Helon Habila’s (Oil on Water, 2011) fourth novel is a round-the-world journey that links disparate, desperate strangers. An unnamed African history scholar (his PhD pending) and his American wife, Gina, relocate from Arlington, Virginia, to Berlin when the latter wins a prestigious fellowship; she’s creating a portrait series called Travelers featuring “real migrants,” which provides the scholar’s catalytic connection to global wanderers.
The scholar, originally from Nigeria, and Gina part, and his peripatetic path leads him to a Malawian film student/activist; in Berlin, Basel, and London, to a Zambian woman searching for answers about her murdered brother and late father; in train transit, to a Somalian father on the run; on a Greek island, to a heartbroken doctor aching for news about his not-wife; and, in London, to a long-suffering Nigerian refugee in hiding. Habila deftly underscores unexpected connections, regardless of circumstances and geography – and, in so doing, offers a pressing reminder that human bonds will eclipse the strangling confines of borders and boundaries.