It was a terrible time to be alive, especially if you were young, talented and ambitious- and patriotic, wrote the author in the afterword of the book. The atmosphere is grim and depressing and the mood was that of chaos and despair as Nigeria at that time was a land of repression and instability. The military reign of terror had run the country aground; the nation had become one where dreams would only be dreams; half of the world had slammed the country with all sorts of sanctions; citizens were left with the option of either fleeing the country to avoid prison/death or support the government of the day.
The narrative of the book does not follow a chronological path but begins from the end where Lomba is already in prison with the circumstances surrounding his detention becoming apparent towards the end of the book. In the opening chapter, Lomba is introduced to us as a political prisoner jailed for two years without trial who begins to share his experience in the middle of his second year in prison the moment he got access to pencil and paper. The author jumps back and forth in time in subsequent chapters to the life Lomba lived before his detention. We are introduced to ordinary citizens of Lagos including Lomba himself, who despite the difficult economy and bleak future still had hopes and dreams for a beautiful tomorrow. The point of view switches from one character to another and to an omnipresent one as the story is told not from one person’s glimpse of life but a collection of experience to convey the terrors and political life in this era.
The title, waiting for an angel is adopted from the second chapter where Lomba and his friends have their future told by a fortune teller who introduces himself to them as a poet. One of the young men, whose name was not given, asks to know the day of his death which he hopes will be “spectacular and momentous”, a day which he is assured will know when the time come. He is killed in a gruesome manner after he defied the imposed curfew following a coup and engaging in fight with a military man. The fortune teller also informs Lomba of his future journey to prison. The story moves on to Bola, Lomba’s friend who is left grief stricken following the death of his parents and sister in a car crash, whose antigovernment speeches gets him arrested and beaten by soldiers. His great love married a rich man to pay for her mother's cancer treatment. With no chance of getting his own novel published, Lomba takes up a job writing on arts and culture for the Dial. We also get to see life on Povery Street through the eyes of Kela, a teenager sent to Lagos to live with his aunt after smoking weed in his father’s car, who encounters Lomba just prior to the protest demonstration and consequent bloodbath that send Lomba to prison.
The book in which fiction and historical political facts are intertwined focused in part on the predicaments and the longing for self-expression of writers/journalist in Nigeria during the military regime of Babangida/Abacha. Event such as Babangida's annulment of the elections and imprisonment of MKO Abiola; the death of the journalist Dele Giwa by letter bomb; the coup that brought Abacha to power; the hanging of the writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa; the expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of nations and the assassination of Abiola's wife, Kudirat.
The book is a compelling read of a time in the history of the nation. In each and every character, one identifies and remembers what life was like during the military regimes. These families depicted the everyday life, hopes and dreams of majority of the citizens living in Nigeria under Sani Abacha. It did not matter if they were rich or poor. In those days, you either had a voice or was silent, if you had a voice, then you are government’s enemy and had only the option of exile or prison and maybe death if not so lucky.