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Measuring Time

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  540 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Mamo and LaMamo are twin brothers living in the small Nigerian village of Keti, where their domineering father controls their lives. With high hopes the twins attempt to flee from home, but only LaMamo escapes successfully and is able to live their dream of becoming a soldier who meets beautiful women. Mamo, the sickly, awkward twin, is doomed to remain in the village with ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published February 19th 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2007)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  540 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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Sep 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
i wish i could have made a shelf called "books in which two twins set off to become soldiers together, only one has second thoughts, and turns back, and then they are separated," and then i could put this and Gob's Grief on it. however, that is too long a name to have, it seems...
Friederike Knabe
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa
"Measuring Time" is the story of twin brothers, their family and the people that shaped them. Living in rural Nigeria, village life and the natural environment add atmosphere and context. Habila's story-telling talents are evident in numerous ways. His own narrative of people and events is interwoven with those of his protagonist Mamo, who in later years writes about the people around him and thereby becomes a recorder of the local history. Giving Mamo the dual voice of the growing boy/young adu ...more
Aug 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
A long & demanding novel, it's also a slow starter, & I kept being tempted to bail out until, at midpoint, I figured out what it was about, & that was two of my favorite topics: History & national identity. "A true history," the main character reflects, "is one that looks at the lives of individuals, ordinary people who toil and dream and suffer, who bear the brunt of whatever vicissitudes time inflicts on the nation. If a historian could capture these ordinary lives, including t ...more
Feb 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really a 4.5. For all of what seem on the surface like "gimmicks," (Nigerian twins, the structure of the bildungsroman, etc) it adds up to a smart, elegant story. Mamo and LaMamo grow up neglected by their father and raised by their aunt. Mamo is physically weak from sickle-cell anemia; LaMamo is strong. They run away and LaMamo becomes a soldier; Mamo is forced to turn back and becomes a teacher and a historian. The pathos and boredom of Mamo's life is punctuated by LaMamo's letters from Liberi ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: leisure-reading
I waffled back and forth over if this book was a four star or a three it is getting a 3+ from me. I liked the book and found it very interesting. But the reason for the three stars and not four is because the most interesting part for me was "experiencing" life in an African village and how civil wars/any war affect the life of people living in the conflict areas. The author does an excellent job of painting the picture of African village life and giving depth to Mamo, the main charact ...more
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
A remarkable piece of work by Habila. His prose is lyrically attractive, poetic, a canvas of colours playing with some trompe l'oeil techniques and intertextual references from various authors. It's stories within a story. The twin fighter vs the academic twin, two sides of the same coin really, although the academic twin occupies much of the narrative there is always an implicit reference to the risk taker and fighter. Set in the Nigeria of the '60s to the 90's we witness through the characters ...more
Mar 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: african literature fans!
reading this book was listening to my father talk about his life before immigration. i could easily see him and his mates living out their lives in this novel. it was realistic fiction, becuase it bought the nigerian of my father's youth (and the nigerian during the present elections) to life in a very sublte way. helon habila writes in a plain fashion. he puts me in the mind of chinua achebe. what you see is what the characters see. what you experience is what the characters experience. what yo ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If I were still teaching, I would teach this book, not only for the questions it raises to which I do not know the answers (Nigerian history primary among them), but also because it is beautifully told, deceptively simple, and filled with love and wisdom, anger and illness, dishonesty and naive, hopeful belief. Mamo and LaMamo are twins who as children seek adventure and fame, and as adults realize the dark side of both ambitions.
Geek Lee
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it
this was an interesting read but not quite what i expected. the characters were wonderful and one can't help but want the twins to succeed in their quest to become famous. i enjoyed the beginning of their tale the most - the young boys are very entertaining. i also enjoyed reading about their journeys and felt extremely sympathetic for mamo and his adventure, perhaps because the story is told from his perspective. still, i feel as though the story loses its way just as it is winding down and bel ...more
Marcy prager
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Two twins, living in a small Nigerian village called Keti, measuring time, wondering how they will each achieve fame together. Mamo, the twin who has sickle cell anemia, measures his time as a child, sick in bed, while his twin colors and entertains him by his bedside. Mamo measures his time, waiting for his father's love. Mamo measures his time, waiting for his twin to come back from numerous rebel armies, trying to "save Africa" from the puppets of the Western Powers. Mamo measures his time, g ...more
Dowell Oba
Dec 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The author's style of putting across the story is unique and wonderful. I love the characterization, particularly that of Mamo, the sickly twin. The author takes us carefully into his gentle and admirable character. He is a young man that speaks less and lives in much silence, from which he studies his environment very well, and becomes a historian determined to preserve his people's history and tell their story from different angles and from the point of view of several distinct individuals inc ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: place, high-lit
I loved the sprawling tale of the brother who stayed behind in rural Northern Nigeria when I read it, but the story faded and was eclipsed by sharper, more urgent works (Born on a Tuesday, Season of Crimson Blossoms). A meandering deep dive into political corruption and local boss machinery, and how young men are woven in as bright threads-- actors-- but are not the loom or the weaver or the tapestry.
Sep 11, 2014 rated it liked it
first time this has happened to me. i usually abandon a book early on, the most i will read is about 70 pages before i leave it. i enjoyed this book so much and then, when there were about 100 pages left, i didn't want to read anymore.

i think it is written very well and it is an interesting story, but i think the detail of the history got too much for me. i love historical novels, but this one was a tad too much. pity though, as it was really promising. i skimmed over the last 100 pages.
Oct 20, 2012 rated it liked it
I liked the characters and their relationships, and the political goings-on -- both the political-hopeful father and the government interference in the school intrigued me.

The language was pleasant and enjoyable to read, and the main story was interesting.

It was maybe 150 pages too long and could have used an editor with a more judicious eye.

Sophie Muller
Apr 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable book that resonated deeply with me regarding the value of culture and history. I'm using the passage about facial tribal marks and their lack of relevance nowadays with my Japanese students, to try and help them see how dated their main conception of tattoos (gangsters) is.
Feb 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
I felt this amazing story of 2 brothers. So recommend this.
Helga Schaberg
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Insightful, thought-provoking, beautifully-written.

page 316: She said, "As a kid I was afraid of the dark, of being alone in the dark. But I outgrew that with time. Then in school I feared not being liked by the other girls, I outgrew that with time also. After school it was the fear of failure - I still fear failure, but for a different reason, a more mature reason. I fear it for myself. I don't want to fall below my expectations for myself, that'll be so unbearable, only that at times I don't
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'd probably give it a 3.5 if that were an option..
"They had decided a long time ago to make life hard for their father. He had broken their mother’s heart, and though the twins had not been born then, some women in the village still hum the song, popular many years ago, about Lamang’s philandering before and after he had married their mother. The song, a ballad that grew in detail and complexity with each rendition in the moonlit village square, called Lamang the “King of Women / Owner of ten women / In every village from / Keti to the state ca ...more
Aug 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Yes. Yes. and Yes.

I deeply appreciated that Habila is an African writer, telling stories from an African perspective. This emic perspective adds relevance to the story that is missing when the story comes from an outsider voice.

Habila writes wholly human characters. They are beautifully flawed and self-conscious in their limitations. They are held back by cultural and environmental restraints. Despite it all, they are deeply, undeniably beautiful.

Habila creates characters who despite obstacle
Jul 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: cultural-africa
This almost 400 page book took me a very long time to read. It was interesting but not captivating. The story is as much about Nigerian history as the story of two twin boys, Mamo and LaMamo, who decide from an early age to become famous. Mamo has sickle cell anemia and is often sick. He has no choice but to stay in his village and becomes by happenstances of fate, a teacher and then biographer of the Mai (king) of their village. This is where the story gets interesting in the history of Nigeria ...more
Jul 10, 2007 rated it liked it
An interesting novel that takes place in Nigeria and chronicles the divergent path of twin brothers. Mamo, the sickly and older brother, stays in the native village becoming the local historian while his twin, Lamamo, sets off at a young age to join the army and ends up fighting in various locations in northern Africa. The novel explores interesting issues such as tradition v. modernity, peaceful action v. violence, moral integrity, history and education, among others. I enjoyed the book for the ...more
Nov 01, 2007 rated it liked it
I want to give this four stars, because it seemed like "literature," and smart people like literature, and I'm smart, right? But that's just posturing, if I'm honest. I didn't love Measuring time, but I did truly enjoy it. Measuring Time is well paced (good thing, or the title would be ironic) and filled with interesting characters. The story contains a lot of emotion, but never stoops to sentimentality. And there's both enough grit and enough light to make the book appealing to me at this stage ...more
Aug 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
I loved this book! All Mamo ever wanted was to be famous and remembered. He gets his wish, though not in the way he imagined as a child. Those around him also have their place in history recorded, but probably not the way they would have chosen either. Plus I really learned a lot about a culture that's totally foreign to me, which is always cool! The ending did kind of lack for me, but overall it was a story I found myself drawn to, always wanted to read the next chapter b/c, even though my life ...more
Sep 25, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: group-read
When I think of a word to describe how I felt about this book, the only word that continuously comes to mind is "indifferent." I was indifferent about the story, the writing and the characters. All were good and at times I was engaged and invested in the text. However, there were other times that I found myself just not caring. I wouldn't say that it was a horrible book because it wasn't, but I don't think that I would recommend it to anyone either.
Jul 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for a fast-paced thriller with a mind bending plot you won't find it here. This is as real as it gets from the theme of the story to the pace of the writing.
Having had my early childhoold in northern Nigeria I was able to identify with many elements of this story which really brought it home for me. I felt I was reading a true story and not simply fiction.
Well done Helon.
Carolyn Crocker
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
The incomprehensible genocides and self-destruction in Africa ripped off the headlines become clearer in this family saga of twins in a small Nigerian village. The intersection of personality, Western technololgy and trappings, and tradition give the reader a glimmer of understanding. Illness and ambition vie in the soul of sickly Mamo, the thinker/writer stuck in the village; ambition and compassion in his brother who becomes a child soldier. Very readable and illuminating.
May 04, 2014 marked it as to-read
" Its about twins, Mamo and LaMamo, one of whom is clearly INTJ and one who is INTP. the novel is written from the INTP brother's perspective and is very much an insight into his thinking and the dilemmas and situations he gets into are very familiar - it'a a very sympathetic character and the whole novel gives a good insight into Nigerian rural life and politics."
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Helon Habila was born in Nigeria in 1967. He studied literature at the University of Jos and taught at the Federal Polytechnic Bauchi, before moving to Lagos to work as a journalist. In Lagos he wrote his first novel, Waiting for an Angel, which won the Caine Prize in 2001. Waiting for an Angel has been translated into many languages including Dutch, Italian, Swedish, and French.

In 2002, he moved