NYTimes Review: “Imbolo Mbue’s ‘How Beautiful We Were’ Exposes the Human Cost of Capital”

HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE | Imbolo Mbue | BUY BOOK


Drawing by Cannaday Chapman for The New York Times

Review by Omar El-Akkad | New York Times |

A kind of moral claustrophobia hangs over the opening pages of Imbolo Mbue’s sweeping and quietly devastating second novel, “How Beautiful We Were.” In October of 1980, in the fictional African village of Kosawa, representatives of an American oil company called Pexton have come to meet with the locals, whose children are dying. Nearby, the company’s oil pipelines and drilling sites have left the fields fallow and the water poisoned… continued


ABOUT THE BOOK

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 American oil company.

“A novel with the richness and power of a great contemporary fable, and a heroine for our time.”–Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend, winner of the National Book Award

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 of a people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of cleanup and financial reparations to the villagers are made–and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interests. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle will last for decades and come at a steep price.

Told from 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 on to its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

IMBOLO MBUE is the author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. The novel has been translated into eleven languages, adapted into an opera and a stage play, and optioned for a miniseries.

A native of Limbe, Cameroon, and a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, Mbue lives in New York.

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