Black Boy Review

Travelers: A One Minute Conversation with Helon Habila


I have just finished reading TRAVELERS from the ONEREAD app by STERLING BANK and I feel one of the most important highlights for me was the representation of numerous themes explored in the novel. That  also made me connect well too.


There is also the part that TRAVELERS is actually a book that has a “well-traveled” setting.


Did your experiences influence the writing of TRAVELERS?


Yes, it did. We always write from our experiences, in one way or another, and I guess some more than others. I did meet people like the characters represented in Travelers, most of them in Berlin and Switzerland. A lot of the story is based on the interviews I had with these migrants. Like you said, the setting is also important. This is my first book set entirely outside Nigeria, I had to be careful not to misrepresent other cultures and people.



There is also some magic that comes with the entire descriptive style. Everything was simplified in a way we all feel what we have never seen before. I understand this is a great skill.


Was this a strategy to get all kinds of readers ?


As a story teller one of my important aims is always to carry the reader along. I do this by constantly surprising and him with unexpected twists in my plot, and in my characterization as well–I defamiliarize the familiar. I didn’t have a particular reader in mind, so you could say I was writing for an ideal reader, some one like myself.



How long did it take you to write TRAVELERS?


About three years. One year for research one year for drafting, and one year for re-writing. My biggest challenge was shaping the actual stories and interviews into fiction, and finding a connecting thread between the lives and experiences of my six major characters. It took a while. Thankfully, with all the characters there is one overarching theme in their narrative, the lose of home and the search for a new home. I began from there.



Were there books you were reading at the same time TRAVELERS were being written ?


Ans: I am always reading, when I am writing and when I am not writing. I had to read a lot of books that deal with the same subject matter as mine. There’s a lot of literature out there to do with migration and exile, etc. It was a bit daunting to throw my hat into that crowded ring. But then, one shouldn’t be discouraged from writing a war story because there are many war novels out there, or a painter doesn’t stop painting a tree of a river because others have done it. One simply has to find what makes his own rendering unique, and urgent, and interesting. I guess the question I asked myself was: is this story necessary, is it important? The answer was yes.



What are you reading currently ?


Ans: Many books. One is a book on the library in Timbuktu, it is a nonfiction book on ancient manuscript collectors of Timbuktu, going back to the 14th century. It is called The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. I am also reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I recommend both.



Working on a fifth book ?


Ans: Yes. I am excited about this one

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