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From the celebrated author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, comes a sweeping, wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an America oil company. "We should have known the end was near." So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a peo From the celebrated author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, comes a sweeping, wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an America oil company. "We should have known the end was near." So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean-up and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle would last for decades and come at a steep price. Told through the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold onto its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom. "The unforgettable story of a community on the wrong end of Western greed, How Beautiful We Were will enthrall you, appall you, and show you what is possible when a few people stand up and say this is not right. A masterful novel by a spellbinding writer engaged with the most urgent questions of our day.”—David Ebershoff, bestselling author of The Danish Girl


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From the celebrated author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, comes a sweeping, wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an America oil company. "We should have known the end was near." So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a peo From the celebrated author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, comes a sweeping, wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an America oil company. "We should have known the end was near." So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean-up and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle would last for decades and come at a steep price. Told through the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold onto its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom. "The unforgettable story of a community on the wrong end of Western greed, How Beautiful We Were will enthrall you, appall you, and show you what is possible when a few people stand up and say this is not right. A masterful novel by a spellbinding writer engaged with the most urgent questions of our day.”—David Ebershoff, bestselling author of The Danish Girl

30 review for How Beautiful We Were

  1. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I was a big fan of Behold The Dreamers, so I was anxious to read Mbue’s sophomore effort. This time, the story takes place in a fictional African village that has been ravaged by environmental degradation brought on by an American oil company. It’s the 1980s and both the company and the government are doing nothing to fix the problem. But in the midst of a meeting with the company representatives, someone finally takes action. We hear from an assortment of characters, all villagers. Mbue does a g I was a big fan of Behold The Dreamers, so I was anxious to read Mbue’s sophomore effort. This time, the story takes place in a fictional African village that has been ravaged by environmental degradation brought on by an American oil company. It’s the 1980s and both the company and the government are doing nothing to fix the problem. But in the midst of a meeting with the company representatives, someone finally takes action. We hear from an assortment of characters, all villagers. Mbue does a great job of putting us in the minds of the different characters, as they search for a way forward. The main character is Thula, whom we follow from childhood through adulthood. The writing is beautiful and she provides a strong feel for time and place. This is not a fast paced story and at times, I felt it rambled. The timeline jumped all over the place and sometimes made for a difficult time for my comprehension. In the end, I felt disappointed with the book. I could sympathize with the characters, but I never felt that they resonated as real. My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    A novel with many themes that are essential for understanding Africa: slavery, land exploitation, white man indifference to the plight of the indiginous communities, traditions and myths and many more. An astounding tale of villagers' fight for the right to retain dignity and their own ways of life. Several voices tell their stories which present daily life, customs, moments of happiness and long periods of misery and helplesness when confronted with powers beyond their control. A novel to rememb A novel with many themes that are essential for understanding Africa: slavery, land exploitation, white man indifference to the plight of the indiginous communities, traditions and myths and many more. An astounding tale of villagers' fight for the right to retain dignity and their own ways of life. Several voices tell their stories which present daily life, customs, moments of happiness and long periods of misery and helplesness when confronted with powers beyond their control. A novel to remember! *Many thanks to Imbolo Mbue, Canongate, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emer (A Little Haze)

    I was incredibly impressed by Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel Behold the Dreamers when I read it in 2017 and knew that this was an author whose work I would want to return to in the future. In this second novel from Mbue we are given the story of a fictional African village named Kosawa where Pexton, an American Oil company, has come in to exploit the land... at first this company promised success and prosperity to the village... and of course paid the government well... but it soon emerged that all th I was incredibly impressed by Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel Behold the Dreamers when I read it in 2017 and knew that this was an author whose work I would want to return to in the future. In this second novel from Mbue we are given the story of a fictional African village named Kosawa where Pexton, an American Oil company, has come in to exploit the land... at first this company promised success and prosperity to the village... and of course paid the government well... but it soon emerged that all they brought were death and destruction due to reckless practices that dangerously polluted the water and the land. The book uses a number of different points of view to tell the story of this small village’s attempts to reclaim their ancestral lands from Pexton and their government, and to get compensation so they could clean their water supply to help heal their sick and dying children. It mostly uses the story of one child of the village, Thula, to show the impacts of what the American oil company and the government have done to the people of Kosawa. It follows her from childhood through to adulthood. Thula who is different. Thula who demands more from life. Thula who marches to her own drumbeat. Thula who wants education. Thula who wants to become a revolutionary and a peacemaker. Thula who wants restitution for her people. The book uses her as a focal point but uses the eyes of her mother, brother, and village age mates among others to tell this compelling story. But oh.... I’m so mad at this book. Absolutely mad. Because it’s beautiful. There are so many sentences and paragraphs that I highlighted on my book. So many truths about life and death, about family and loyalty, about justice and retribution... This novel at times floored me with its devastating honesty. With its incredible ability to truly get into the nitty gritty between corporate multinationals and innocent bystanders, in this case the village... But it annoyed me because this book flatters to deceive. All that brilliance was tarnished by a meandering plot. A plot that technically gave a very complete idea of village life over the years but ultimately it was done at the expense of the novel’s direction and pace. Because it was too much of a slow read. It frequently dragged and felt clunky to read. And then there was an issue with how the narrative unfolded I felt. The timeline felt disjointed. At times the book suddenly told of unexpected and harrowing events and I felt lost. I was confused as to whether I’d somehow forgotten something or if I’d skipped pages... but then the narrative backtracked to explain those events but it was too late. I felt the impact and gravitas of such had been eroded, and instead ad a reader I was left frustrated by the lack of consistency with the direction of the storytelling. But on the other hand this story haunted me. It haunted me when it showed how little life is cared for in the pursuit of financial reward. It haunted me when it showed how demands for restitution turn to hopeless revenge ... There’s so much good in this novel. The story is sadly all too easy to believe. The sorrows and horrors that are inflicted upon the people of Kosawa all too realistic... A brave and inspiring novel that regrettably isn’t executed quite as brilliantly as it could be, but is still very much worth a read. Definitely recommend it to book groups as it would make a for interesting and thought provoking discussion. 3.5 stars. *An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review* Publishing 11th March 2021, Canongate For more reviews and book related chat check out my blog Follow me on Twitter Friend me on Goodreads

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jessica | JustReadingJess

    How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue is a moving story about a fictional African Village told from multiple perspectives. An American oil company causes devastating problems for the people and land. The villagers are dealing with a government that doesn’t care about its people and only cares about its own interest. The story revolves around Thula. Thula grows from a nervous, hardworking girl into a strong women fighting for justice. Thula is the kind of character that I look for in books. She is How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue is a moving story about a fictional African Village told from multiple perspectives. An American oil company causes devastating problems for the people and land. The villagers are dealing with a government that doesn’t care about its people and only cares about its own interest. The story revolves around Thula. Thula grows from a nervous, hardworking girl into a strong women fighting for justice. Thula is the kind of character that I look for in books. She is inspiring and relatable. How Beautiful We Were was difficult to read at times but very important and impactful. The village is always helping each other and Thula makes it her life’s mission to help others. I am always interested to get inside characters’ heads, so loved all of the perspectives in How Beautiful We Were. The characters had different experiences and it was interesting to see how they felt and reacted to certain events. I love Imbolo Mbue’s books and will read anything she writes. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Prentice Onayemi, Janina Edwards, Dion Graham, JD Jackson, Allyson Johnson, and Lisa Renee Pitts. All of the narrators did a great job and were the perfect voices for their characters. I am so glad I listened to the audiobook. Thank you Random House for the gifted book and Penguin Random House Audio for the gifted audiobook. Full Review: https://justreadingjess.wordpress.com...

  5. 5 out of 5

    BookOfCinz

    I know nothing about how a girl makes men pay for their crimes, but I have the rest of my life to figure it out. This book was worth the wait, when you read it, you will see why! In Imbolo Mbue’s sophomore novel How Beautiful We Were we are taken to a fictional village called Kosawa which is on the continent of Africa. Kosawa is home to the villagers who once live a simple life farming and living off the land. That is until an American Oil company called Pexton found oil close to the village I know nothing about how a girl makes men pay for their crimes, but I have the rest of my life to figure it out. This book was worth the wait, when you read it, you will see why! In Imbolo Mbue’s sophomore novel How Beautiful We Were we are taken to a fictional village called Kosawa which is on the continent of Africa. Kosawa is home to the villagers who once live a simple life farming and living off the land. That is until an American Oil company called Pexton found oil close to the village and started drilling. Kosawa which was oncea fertile and thriving village is now home to children dying from toxic air and fumes. The land is barren and infertile, the river is polluted and water from the well can lead to death. The Pexton’s overseer comes with promises and reparations that are never fulfilled. Each year the Villagers sit listening to promises of what is going to happen, how Pexton will start assisting them but nothing happens until one night, the village Madman decides enough is enough. With one bold move from one Villager, they all decide it is time to fight back. No one can image the fight that awaits them. This is a story of fight, of greed, environmental awareness, poverty, corruption, activism, agency, colonialism and the cost of not having a voice. Told from the perspectives of Thula, her family and the children who grew up with her, we are giving an in-depth look into the history of Kosawa and Pexton and how the fight turned out. I loved that the author told this very heavy story from the point of views those who are not only involved but deeply impacted. Yes, this was a slow burn, and generally I would lose interest but having the change in narration and the author making the fight against this oil company the focus of the story kept me deeply invested. I need to know what happened. How will it turn out? Can a small village in Africa win against a huge American oil company? Who will hear their voice? How can one woman win this uphill battle? Will they lose interest? Will they forget about all the children that died because the government decided to hand over land to an oil company? Imbolo Mbue KNOW how to tell a story. She knows how to keep you invested and deeply interested. She is able to take you through a range of emotions that will not let up. She wrote these characters with care and dimensions. I particularly loved reading about the village history, customs and culture. How the Villagers interact with the world and people around them. I felt the author did a superb job of telling a convincing story through Thula. There is the ever-present folklore and culture that transcends and that for me was particularly well executed. Friends, I could GUSH about this book. The themes of love, marriage, education, death, allyship, what activism looks like. There is so much to talk about and dive into. Did I mention the writing was just *chef’s kiss*. I could go on and on, but what I will say is that book was worth the wait! Thanks Random House for this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    I just read How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue This is a story about a small African village and an American oil company. It is narrated by a generation of children, and family members of a daughter named Thula. Children in the small village are dying, oil spills are contaminating their drinking water. It is beautifully written and is quite a sad situation. I did enjoy the book, and writing, however I also found it exhausting to read at the same time. For me, the variety of narrators made it a b I just read How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue This is a story about a small African village and an American oil company. It is narrated by a generation of children, and family members of a daughter named Thula. Children in the small village are dying, oil spills are contaminating their drinking water. It is beautifully written and is quite a sad situation. I did enjoy the book, and writing, however I also found it exhausting to read at the same time. For me, the variety of narrators made it a bit of a challenge. 3.5 Stars #HowBeautifulWeWere #NetGalley I want to thank NetGalley, Author Imbolo Mbue, and Random House Publishing Group - Random House. For my advanced copy to read and review

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I read Imbolo Mbue's first novel Behold the Dreamers as a galley and for book club. I jumped at the chance to read her second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Was money so important that they would sell children to strangers seeking oil?~from How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue The novel is about an African village struggling for environmental justice, powerless, caught between an American oil company and a corrupt dictatorship government. They are proud people, connected to the land of their ances I read Imbolo Mbue's first novel Behold the Dreamers as a galley and for book club. I jumped at the chance to read her second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Was money so important that they would sell children to strangers seeking oil?~from How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue The novel is about an African village struggling for environmental justice, powerless, caught between an American oil company and a corrupt dictatorship government. They are proud people, connected to the land of their ancestors. They have lived simple, subsistence lives, full of blessings. Until the oil company ruined their water, their land, their air. A generation of children watch their peers dying from poisoned water. Their pleas for help are in vain. School-aged Thula is inspired by books, including The Communist Manifesto, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and The Wretched of the Earth. "They were her closest friends," spurring her into activist causes when she goes to America to study. In America and becomes an activist. Meanwhile, her peers in her home village lose faith in the process and take up terrorism. How could we have been so reckless as to dream?~from How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue The fictional village, its inhabitants and history, is so well drawn I could believe it taken from life. The viewpoint shifts among the characters. We wondered if America was populated with cheerful people like that overseer, which made it hard for us to understand them: How could they be happy when we were dying for their sake?~from How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue The fate of the village and its country are an indictment to Western colonialism and capitalism. Slaves, rubber, oil--people came and exploited Africa for gain. (And of course, it was not just Africa...) In the end, they lose their traditions and ancestral place as the children become educated and take jobs with Western corporations and the government. This story must be told, it might not feel good to all ears, it gives our mouths no joy to sat it, but our story cannot be left untold.~from How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue This is not an easy book for an American to read. It reminds us of the many ways our country has failed and continues to fail short of the ideal we hope it is. And not just abroad--we have failed our children here in America. I was given access to a free ebook by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  8. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    There are alternating narrative voices employed in this novel, and they all are imbued with a quality of narrative style that I would call "folk-elegiac," a technique where the author wants to capture the rhythms of oral storytelling, as well as the bonds of traditional village life, while also trying to make the language itself beautiful and literary. But, Mama, the soldiers have guns," I say, struggling not to cry. Papa told me, before he left, never to cry unless I must. "How will machetes he There are alternating narrative voices employed in this novel, and they all are imbued with a quality of narrative style that I would call "folk-elegiac," a technique where the author wants to capture the rhythms of oral storytelling, as well as the bonds of traditional village life, while also trying to make the language itself beautiful and literary. But, Mama, the soldiers have guns," I say, struggling not to cry. Papa told me, before he left, never to cry unless I must. "How will machetes help us?" "Jakani and Sakani will take care of that," Mama replies. I ask no more questions. The twins--our village medium and medicine man--are capable of incredible deeds. They're beyond human, but they're mortals; they too can die. This narrative choice is much beloved by many readers but here it didn't work for me. I began to hear echoes of arch-colonialist Rudyard Kipling in my head, when Kipling is trying to sound authentic. If the story had been written in third person I probably would have loved it and would be comparing it with Upton Sinclair and other great novels of social justice that have changed us. For me, though, the prettiness of the language, as well as the somewhat forced-sounding archaisms, were distractions from the urgent message of the story. A very personal read of what is an excellent book in its own way. A lot of readers will love it for the very thing about it that got in my way.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Naori

    3.5 Review to ensue...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lisa of Troy

    Watch my video review here including the true story behind this book: https://youtu.be/Yva_hnrdFRk Wow! If you read one book this year, this is it. Here is hoping that this book starts a movement. How Beautiful We Were focuses on a village in Africa where an American oil has arrived and polluted the groundwater and air in the process. This book does what a picture cannot – it tells the feelings of what it is like to live without clean water. We meet a young girl named Thula, and the book follows h Watch my video review here including the true story behind this book: https://youtu.be/Yva_hnrdFRk Wow! If you read one book this year, this is it. Here is hoping that this book starts a movement. How Beautiful We Were focuses on a village in Africa where an American oil has arrived and polluted the groundwater and air in the process. This book does what a picture cannot – it tells the feelings of what it is like to live without clean water. We meet a young girl named Thula, and the book follows her, her classmates, and her family with the book devoting chapters to each group. Will this village be able to get this American oil company to clean up their waste? Personally, I have never read a book that I knew was going to be 5 stars so quickly. The prose was amazing, and it didn’t hold back. About 60% into the book, a few dates were mentioned which made me believe that this book might be based on real events. With some research, I discovered that oil companies have indeed polluted the groundwater in Africa. There are news articles and pictures, but this book goes beyond. It details the feelings of living without clean water – What does it mean to actually have oil in your water which is supposed to be supporting your crops and trees and provide hydration? Everyone should buy this book! However, if you consider yourself a social activist, a good person, and/or an environmentalist, this is a must-read. This is a book that I hope will change the world and shed light on an important topic. *I received this ARC as a free copy from NetGalley for my fair and honest opinion.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Antonella

    A poignant story that is a perfect social commentary on exploitation in Africa. This book has an interesting premise and that is what drew me to it. In a fictional African village, an American oil company causes an environmental crisis, the water and land are contained. People are dying and a corrupt dictator doesn't care about his people. I enjoyed lyrical writing. There is so much beautiful wording and that shows me how talented this author is. However, multiple points of view dragged the stor A poignant story that is a perfect social commentary on exploitation in Africa. This book has an interesting premise and that is what drew me to it. In a fictional African village, an American oil company causes an environmental crisis, the water and land are contained. People are dying and a corrupt dictator doesn't care about his people. I enjoyed lyrical writing. There is so much beautiful wording and that shows me how talented this author is. However, multiple points of view dragged the story to a pace and repetitions that made me struggle to go on. I think that my enjoyment is tainted by my lack of reading literary fiction. Fans of the genre will enjoy this book more. *Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 3,5 stars

  12. 4 out of 5

    kyra

    Incredibly beautiful. I could not put this down. A great contemporary with characters that will be remembered. I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This novel is set in the fictional African Village of Kosawa, and tells of villagers living in fear due to the environmental degradation and loss of life caused by a greedy American oil company. The people decide to take a stand for justice, which has disastrous results. The story is told from the perspective of a generation of family and centers around a girl named Thula, who grows up to become a revolutionary. The novel had a strong premise. I enjoyed the first 15%, then It fizzled out. The aut This novel is set in the fictional African Village of Kosawa, and tells of villagers living in fear due to the environmental degradation and loss of life caused by a greedy American oil company. The people decide to take a stand for justice, which has disastrous results. The story is told from the perspective of a generation of family and centers around a girl named Thula, who grows up to become a revolutionary. The novel had a strong premise. I enjoyed the first 15%, then It fizzled out. The author spent too much time describing what the characters were thinking and remembering. I wanted more about what the characters were doing. I also found the author’s writing style difficult to follow. For example, I became frustrated when the author stopped in the middle of a dialogue between characters to describe a memory, but didn't return to the earlier dialogue. This would have been a DNF, but I wanted to finish since I received the free ARC. I would only recommend this novel to those who have really enjoyed the author’s previous novels and writing style, or those who have an outside interest in the plot. Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elena L.

    [4.75/5 stars] "What happened will never unhappen, she liked to say; what is to happen will happen - better you focus on what's happening in front of you." "... if everyone only did what they ought to do, who would do the things no one thought they had to do?" Set in a fictional African village of Kosawa, HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE is a multigenerational story about a village dealing with environmental degradation brought by an American oil company (Pexton). Pipeline spills toxic waste on the river, [4.75/5 stars] "What happened will never unhappen, she liked to say; what is to happen will happen - better you focus on what's happening in front of you." "... if everyone only did what they ought to do, who would do the things no one thought they had to do?" Set in a fictional African village of Kosawa, HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE is a multigenerational story about a village dealing with environmental degradation brought by an American oil company (Pexton). Pipeline spills toxic waste on the river, dirt in the air and poison in the well, leaving farms unfruitful and causing death of children and adults. To make it worse, the country's government is led by a dictator who only serves its own interest. Thula, a woman from this village, grows up to become a revolutionary determined to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people's freedom. This book left me reflecting on so many questions: * how can one betray own people for the sake of money? * how far is a person willing to sacrifice for the sake of the family, village or country? * should we try to believe in others to save us or fight for ourselves? * how can the reality be distorted to serve one's privilege and will? * is the world operated under laws that one could never change? * can I ever be the person on the other side who unconsciously contributes to the harm? Mbue masterfully examines the impact of intergenerational colonialism and trauma, environmental racism, oppression, governmental control, westernization, parenting and gender role. I came back to life and died again: from the alluring myth and how Kosawa is bound by the Spirit and oath to broken hearts and deaths. I found myself breathing heavily and crying infuriated along this read - to feel the village's desire to hold on to its ancestral priceless land thus fighting back; to witness not only its journey to reclaim and restore the land, but also to save future generations from suffering and offer a better life; to loath the exploitative nature of corporations and corrupt government. On the other hand, the beauty of this novel lies on the usage of Thula's character to highlight the power of resilience, solidarity and determination. Her strength and compassion couldn't be ignored and we were fighting the same battle. Mbue's exquisite prose flows effortlessly and compels you to appreciate every emotion. The multilayered perspectives allowed a complete view of the events yet sometimes felt distracting. The time-shift in the narrative can be confusing at times. I thought that the plot meandered in the last 80 pages. Lastly, the story wrapped up in a melancholic tone. HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE is a timely and powerful story that cannot be left untold - it is a story that you need to digest, reflect and change. I've been thinking about it since I finished the book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Listen to the full review here: https://bookclubbed.buzzsprout.com/15... This is not a book, but a fable. The problem with fables is that they are supposed to be short, punchy stories. How Beautiful We Were takes a fables’ worth of material and stretches it into an entire book, stretches it so thin that you can see the light breaking through it. Although the light, in this case, is the sweet relief of finishing this burdensome tale. The story is primarily told i Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Listen to the full review here: https://bookclubbed.buzzsprout.com/15... This is not a book, but a fable. The problem with fables is that they are supposed to be short, punchy stories. How Beautiful We Were takes a fables’ worth of material and stretches it into an entire book, stretches it so thin that you can see the light breaking through it. Although the light, in this case, is the sweet relief of finishing this burdensome tale. The story is primarily told in the communal “we” as the village bands together against the evil oil corporation. The characters are defined by one or two attributes, never to change, and the dialogue seems to be ripped straight from a children’s book, so banal they might as well not have spoken at all. The plot is predictable. Any reader can scan the book cover and understand exactly how this will play out. It might have been a shocking tale sixty years ago, but we all have access to the internet now and understand how corporations operate. The problem with a good vs evil theme is that—even if it contains some truth—it flattens any complexity. We know who to root for. It will be a happy or sad ending, and we will learn nothing throughout, as we already understand the simplistic moral before we even begin the first chapter.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sian (sianslibrary)

    I read Imbolo Mbue’s first novel, Behold The Dreamers, earlier this year and absolutely loved her writing and storytelling - it was easily a five star read. So when I heard her second novel was open to reviews, I jumped at the chance to dive into yet another marvellous feat of storytelling. How Beautiful We Were did not disappoint - the writing is beautiful and the story is brutally honest and breathtaking. The hard truths of capitalism and its consequences on an impoverished African village are I read Imbolo Mbue’s first novel, Behold The Dreamers, earlier this year and absolutely loved her writing and storytelling - it was easily a five star read. So when I heard her second novel was open to reviews, I jumped at the chance to dive into yet another marvellous feat of storytelling. How Beautiful We Were did not disappoint - the writing is beautiful and the story is brutally honest and breathtaking. The hard truths of capitalism and its consequences on an impoverished African village are conveyed perfectly in the authors choice of language and character perspectives. The global pursuit for oil and the devastation it leaves on innocent people and their lands is an issue I’ve been left thinking about since finishing this book. I’m now acutely aware of the parallels that are still happening in our world today. I will certainly read Mbue’s future novels - I do hope she has more stories to tell. Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    ***Goodreads Giveaway Win*** This book had all the trappings of a book I'd normally steer away from; climate fiction, didacticism, politics, feminism. And yet, I loved it anyway. The storytelling was compelling; the voices were inventive and there was an ever so slight absurdity which I eat up every time. There so much to say about the book both plot-wise and theme-wise that I can't begin to lay them out with any articulation. The point of this review is to say, you should read it :-). ***Goodreads Giveaway Win*** This book had all the trappings of a book I'd normally steer away from; climate fiction, didacticism, politics, feminism. And yet, I loved it anyway. The storytelling was compelling; the voices were inventive and there was an ever so slight absurdity which I eat up every time. There so much to say about the book both plot-wise and theme-wise that I can't begin to lay them out with any articulation. The point of this review is to say, you should read it :-).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    I never thought I would be entertained reading about a fiction African village and an American oil company! I was mesmerized and can highly recommend this unique fictional history filled with colorful characters & a memorable story line.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mainlinebooker

    In this poignant novel, Mbue highlights the plight of natives in a fictional African village who are pillaged by an oil company that has overtaken their land. They have built oil pipes underneath the ground on lands previously owned by their ancestors that have produced toxic waste into the river, destroying the fishing and contaminating the water.The children no longer called it the big river, but the"sad river''. Mudslides have occurred because of the deforestation and sickness and death have In this poignant novel, Mbue highlights the plight of natives in a fictional African village who are pillaged by an oil company that has overtaken their land. They have built oil pipes underneath the ground on lands previously owned by their ancestors that have produced toxic waste into the river, destroying the fishing and contaminating the water.The children no longer called it the big river, but the"sad river''. Mudslides have occurred because of the deforestation and sickness and death have invaded the village because of the toxic fumes. I couldn't help feeling that the author was referring to Nigeria and the oil company called Pexton was really Exxon Mobil but that is purely a presumption on my part. Indeed, there were parts of the novel that felt like it was observations from all different parts of African history.The oil company had promised to clean up the land and provide financial remuneration but it was all falsehoods. Told through the voices of a powerful girl named Thula,her family and the children around her, it is one of major sacrifices these tribes had to endure to fight for their rights for many years.I found this novel incredibly compelling, thought provoking and disturbing how we exploit people in third world countries. A must read. Thank you to Net Galley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    DNF I simply do not have the energy to continue trying to read this meandering and slooooooow story. It is going nowhere. It’s unfortunate because the story itself seems very worthwhile and potentially interesting but the writing just killed all joy in reading. 1*/3.96* In compliance with FTC guidelines------I received this book free from a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. The content of this review is not influenced by that fact. The feelings expressed are solely mine. I sincer DNF I simply do not have the energy to continue trying to read this meandering and slooooooow story. It is going nowhere. It’s unfortunate because the story itself seems very worthwhile and potentially interesting but the writing just killed all joy in reading. 1*/3.96* In compliance with FTC guidelines------I received this book free from a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. The content of this review is not influenced by that fact. The feelings expressed are solely mine. I sincerely appreciate the chance to read and review this book. Obviously the read dates are wrong. I had to change so the book would not count in my yearly reading challenge.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Resh (The Book Satchel)

    I enjoyed Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers and was eager to see how the second book read. In How Beautiful we were, we are taken to the fictional African town of Kosawa. Here, the American oil company Pexton has strengthened their roots leading to severe, irreparable environmental damage. The children of Kosawa are dying and having health problems. Their leader, as leaders usually are, is unconcerned and siding with Pexton. Until one day in 1980, when the village mad man, Konga, crashes a town I enjoyed Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers and was eager to see how the second book read. In How Beautiful we were, we are taken to the fictional African town of Kosawa. Here, the American oil company Pexton has strengthened their roots leading to severe, irreparable environmental damage. The children of Kosawa are dying and having health problems. Their leader, as leaders usually are, is unconcerned and siding with Pexton. Until one day in 1980, when the village mad man, Konga, crashes a town meeting. He has stolen the Pexton men’s car key and proposes they hold the men captive until something changes. This book is beautiful in its prose. The sentences are lovely to read and Mbue brings alive the fictional town and its host of characters. There are parts told in first person plural (the book begins that way) which was a good artistic choice (And one that succeeds). The story is told from the perspective of a family, mainly a girl called Thula who hopes things would be better one day and also that she, a girl, might teach the men a lesson. I enjoyed looking at the turmoil of characters — being old and cared for, concern about children, the African man on meeting a white man thinking why white men have to ask meaningless questions (small talk) to put the other at ease before coming to the point, people shocked by cultural differences. This is certainly an ambitious book with an ambitious premise. However it could've been edited to a shorter length. The length plus a meandering plot often acts detrimental to what could've been a tighly knit story. Also the time jumps in the narrative were a bit confusing. Read this for a battle between the people of Kosawa and the ruthless Paxton. An impossible battle that comes at great price. Rating : 3.5 Much thanks to Canongate for an e- copy of the book. All opinions are my own. Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nioke

    I wanted to love this because the premise was interesting but it was just a chore to read. The prose is lovely but it is too long and I stopped caring about the characters and where the story was going. I forced myself to finish and the ending disappointed.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    The story is told from multiple points of view, including a group of children, ‘age-mates’ born in the same year, who act rather like the Chorus in a Greek play. This structure allows the reader to see the story from a number of different perspectives, reflecting the varying experiences and attitudes of young and old, male and female. It also gave a sense of the oral storytelling tradition. I was less a fan of the frequently shifting timelines meaning that the story goes back and forth in time. O The story is told from multiple points of view, including a group of children, ‘age-mates’ born in the same year, who act rather like the Chorus in a Greek play. This structure allows the reader to see the story from a number of different perspectives, reflecting the varying experiences and attitudes of young and old, male and female. It also gave a sense of the oral storytelling tradition. I was less a fan of the frequently shifting timelines meaning that the story goes back and forth in time. One moment a character is dead, the next moment they are still in prison. I confess I found this both confusing and distracting. I was grateful when I reached the section told from the point of view of Thula’s grandmother, Yaya, not just because it revealed the history of the injustices visited on the people of Kosawa over many generations – slavery, forced labour on rubber plantations, the destruction of their land by the construction of oil pipelines – but because it was narrated in a largely linear fashion, placing into some order the events featured in previous sections. The book conveys a strong sense of the traditional beliefs and customs that form the backbone of life in the village. How its inhabitants see themselves as different from, even distrustful of, those who live in the towns; tribal and family ties being more important than nationality. The villagers of Kosawa gain strength from their belief that the spirits of their ancestors guide and protect them, as represented in the village anthem: “Sons of the leopard, daughters of the leopard, beware all who dare wrong us, never will our roar be silenced.” The reader learns about what is a strongly patriarchal society, in which women’s role is largely confined to cooking, cleaning and child-rearing and women who lose their husbands are unable to remarry. ‘You can be alone, the men say to us. You’re a woman, you’re built to endure.’ However, it’s also a community that comes together to mark events such as births, the passage into manhood, marriages and deaths. Sadly, the village witnesses many of the latter. The spirit of resistance is most clearly represented by Thula who is described as having ever since the day she was born ‘wanted what she wanted’. I’m always drawn to characters who demonstrate a love of books and reading so it’s no surprise I warmed to Thula for whom, as her mother Sahel observes, books become ‘her pillow and her blanket, her plate of food and the water that quenched her thirst’. Thula’s education takes her away, first from her village, and then from her country to America. However, Kosawa and its plight remains forever in her thoughts, and in her heart.  She becomes both an enabler and catalyst for action against the oil company, Pexton, and later a figurehead for much wider change. One of the last sections of the book, narrated from the point of view of Thula’s brother, Juba, was less compelling than I’d hoped. For me, it got rather bogged down in the details of negotiations, court cases and preparations for the campaign led by Thula.  It also included a brief return to the back and forth in time that I’ve mentioned earlier, and there were some parts I felt were redundant. Although I may have had some reservations about the structure and pace of the book, I had no doubts about the quality of the writing. If you can get past what, for me, was the book’s rather convoluted structure – and I’m conscious other readers may find it imaginative rather than distracting – How Beautiful We Were is a powerful story about the fight against injustice, corruption and environmental destruction.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Fazila

    FR REVIEW : DISCLAIMER : Thank you, Netgalley and Canongate for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am leaving this review voluntarily. How Beautiful We Were is a literary fiction/cultural fiction written by Imbolo Mbue. The story is set in the fictional African village of Kosawa. It tells the heartwrenching tale of the suffering and turmoil caused by the greed of western oil companies. The story is an unforgettable one written with brutal honesty and captures the readers from the get-go. It FR REVIEW : DISCLAIMER : Thank you, Netgalley and Canongate for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am leaving this review voluntarily. How Beautiful We Were is a literary fiction/cultural fiction written by Imbolo Mbue. The story is set in the fictional African village of Kosawa. It tells the heartwrenching tale of the suffering and turmoil caused by the greed of western oil companies. The story is an unforgettable one written with brutal honesty and captures the readers from the get-go. It is told from multiple perspectives helping us put together the puzzle that will leave us with the whole picture. All characters provide us with insight into the situation and help us learn the life before and after the companies started to drill for oil. It is a powerful story that will leave us heartbroken, angry, and wanting to fight for justice on behalf of the people of the village of Kosawa. It's a staggering display of greed and the superiority of Western countries. The parallels to today's world and similar projects make us understand that greed and avarice don't concern itself with the cost of life or the destruction it leaves behind. The ugly side of what corporate companies do to be the big giants they are is laid bare for the readers to see. I loved how wonderfully the author managed to bring together the story by the different perspectives adding something unique to the overall plot. The smaller stories help us understand the culture, traditions, and values these people had. They believed the western people would be true to their words and promise because, to them, their commitment is everything. To live in simpler times when a verbal agreement that is given, has more importance than a piece of paper shows us the character and principle of people who lived there. They didn't anticipate the treachery or dishonesty other people were capable of. I loved all the perspectives, and every one of them gives us insight into their lives. My only complaint is the lack of clarity as to what happened to the men. And the conclusion of Thula with a POV from her would have been great to wrap up the story neatly. Overall it was a great story and an important story that needed to be told. I gave the book 4.5 stars despite it leaving me heartbroken, and I want everyone to pick this book up in March 2021. It's an unforgettable story of an ecologically vulnerable village fighting against the Corporate Giants for their lives and the freedom to live on their birthlands as is their right.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I was most pleased to get this book prepublication as I loved Behold the Dreamers. This book promised to be my reading trifecta: a well written-tome, a good story, and a setting in a different culture/time/place. In the fictional African village of Kosawa, environmental degradation caused by the American oil company, Pexton, wrecks havoc on drinking water and farmland. Many die. Crops wither. The broken promises of a large, powerful corporation versus locals with no power. A corrupt dictator, "t I was most pleased to get this book prepublication as I loved Behold the Dreamers. This book promised to be my reading trifecta: a well written-tome, a good story, and a setting in a different culture/time/place. In the fictional African village of Kosawa, environmental degradation caused by the American oil company, Pexton, wrecks havoc on drinking water and farmland. Many die. Crops wither. The broken promises of a large, powerful corporation versus locals with no power. A corrupt dictator, "the Leader" ignores the populace. Chapters cover decades in the voices of "The Children" and the family members of Thula--a woman with promise, who is sent to America for her education, and returns years later as a revolutionary. [A big deal as women aren't educated --nor is there much schooling in her village--she is sent elsewhere--on a bus--with boys! This struggle illustrates the male-centric society as well. There is much to mine in this book.] There were numerous instances that I noted descriptions I liked [more so in the first half of the book]--e.g.: "beneath a sun both benevolent and cruel" "nostrils which flared like a windswept skirt" "What a face. What a man. Could any man alive be more viciously gorgeous?" "Yaya was no longer Yaya, just a breathing object awaiting death." And so on, In simplistic language, Mbue's words speak volumes. I loved the folklore of Kosawa. However, I also enjoyed the pages that depicted America through Thula's eyes. But then. This compelling sad, moving book, bogged down [about 2/3 through]and became sluggish--a huge disappointment because it just flattened. I agonized --round up or down because it became a solid 3.5. Ultimately, I rounded up, but...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This novel was a compelling read about a small village in the crosshairs of an American oil company poisoning its air and water and the national and local governments letting them do it. The local residents were engaged in a struggle about whether violence or peaceful actions would be effective in taking their village back. Character development is excellent, though sometimes if was difficult to figure out who was narrating as it's written from multiple viewpoints. Mbue is a wonderful writer and This novel was a compelling read about a small village in the crosshairs of an American oil company poisoning its air and water and the national and local governments letting them do it. The local residents were engaged in a struggle about whether violence or peaceful actions would be effective in taking their village back. Character development is excellent, though sometimes if was difficult to figure out who was narrating as it's written from multiple viewpoints. Mbue is a wonderful writer and crafts a good story, but the novel was longer than it needed to be, in my opinion. I wanted to give it 4.5 stars for that reason, but went with 5. My review is based on the Advance Reader's Edition that I received free in a Goodreads drawing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leslye Davidson

    3.5. I received this book in a good reads giveaway. The book has an interesting premise: an African village’s fight against the big US oil company that has poisoned its land. But I struggled to get through it and had to force myself to finish. The writing was flat, especially the sections narrated by the children. I should have cared more. I should have been broken hearted at the end. But I just felt relieved it was over

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ayooluwa

    3.5 stars rounded up to 4 This novel is a poignant story about revolution and all the losses that accompany it. There were very few moments of joy in the story. Which I guess is to be expected, since the novel focuses on the campaign against the environmental damage caused by a big oil company, in a small village with little resources. While Kosawa is a fictional village, there are many communities around the world dealing with similar issues. When I read the novel's blurb, I immediately thought 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 This novel is a poignant story about revolution and all the losses that accompany it. There were very few moments of joy in the story. Which I guess is to be expected, since the novel focuses on the campaign against the environmental damage caused by a big oil company, in a small village with little resources. While Kosawa is a fictional village, there are many communities around the world dealing with similar issues. When I read the novel's blurb, I immediately thought of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, and their campaign against Shell Oil Company's activities on their land. The thing that struck me the most about this story, was the overall feeling of powerlessness amongst the people in the novel. It made the book tedious to read, especially with all the bad things going on in the world right now. The novel was initially meant to be published this year, but was postponed as a result of the current pandemic. I think this was a good call on the part of the publishers because of how sad the story is. Another thing I didn't like about this novel is the pacing of the story, it moved too slowly for my liking and so I had to drop the novel and return to it several times. Though it's a bit of a downer, I think that How Beautiful We Were tells an important story that should be read by more people. I received an advance digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    It is an interesting story - African village being poisoned by the neighbouring American oil company, people rising up and seeking retribution. However it is so long - and so slow - something happens, then we hear about the same thing happening again through different viewpoints. Much as I love a bit of scene setting I did not need to know about the endless clapping and singing when a female has her first period - it was nothing to do with the plot. I kept going but it was one of those books whe It is an interesting story - African village being poisoned by the neighbouring American oil company, people rising up and seeking retribution. However it is so long - and so slow - something happens, then we hear about the same thing happening again through different viewpoints. Much as I love a bit of scene setting I did not need to know about the endless clapping and singing when a female has her first period - it was nothing to do with the plot. I kept going but it was one of those books where I found myself choosing to tidy cupboards rather than read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lex

    Chilling from the first sentence to the last, How Beautiful We Were is a captivating story detailing decades of suffering endured by families in a small African village, Kosawa, and their fight against the American oil company, Pexton, that is poisoning their water and ruining their land. Told from the multiple perspectives of the members of a Kosawa family and the children they grew up with, this reads like a collection of tales being passed from one generation to another. The reader follows al Chilling from the first sentence to the last, How Beautiful We Were is a captivating story detailing decades of suffering endured by families in a small African village, Kosawa, and their fight against the American oil company, Pexton, that is poisoning their water and ruining their land. Told from the multiple perspectives of the members of a Kosawa family and the children they grew up with, this reads like a collection of tales being passed from one generation to another. The reader follows along as the village changes time and time again until it is unrecognizable. The best characteristic of this book is Imbolo Mbue's ability to make every character's perspective uniquely important by allowing each character to cultivate their own style and themes. As the narrators change and the plot moves forward, the reader learns something new from each character. It's a beautiful reminder for two different frames of mind. For those that feel alone in their fight against whatever they're facing, there are other people battling along with us. On the other hand, for those that feel like they can't find any meaning in their fight, we can create meaning in our individual lives by focusing on what's important. I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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