Cover Image: How Beautiful We Were

How Beautiful We Were

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Member Reviews

I literally screamed when I was sent the advance copy of this book. Behold the Dreamers is one of my favorite books OF ALL TIMES, so expectations for How Beautiful We Were were understandably very high.

I was not disappointed, as this book has earned its rightful place right next to her earlier novel. Imbolo Mbue's unmistakable writing style was fully present, which was such a treat for me after waiting so long for another book from her. She knows how to draw the reader's attention to poignant, though initially seemingly unimportant details, which are in fact highly symbolic and meaningful. Literary delight.

And once again, the plot is heartbreaking, tense, heartwarming and unchangeably meaningful, symbolizing a much bigger issue. This time it's about oil exploration, neo-colonialism, ancestry, the power of tradition and community.

The novel takes place in Kasawa, a fictional (though sure gives you some idea) place in Africa which is being exploited for oil by Pexton, an American company. Oil spills have spoiled the water, soil and air, giving people unusual diseases they can't heal. As is typical in such cases, their desperate calls for help are unanswered. While the author uses multiple points of view, the most prominent is that of Thula from her childhood to adulthood.

This book was everything I ever wanted and more. Imbolo Mbue is a huge talent and must now be one of my favorite authors. This is a must read for anyone who needs an eye opener about what modern colonialism is and how it realistically impacts people in "third world" countries - though fictional, it is a true perspective.

*Thank you to the Publisher for a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I really enjoyed this book by Imbolo Mbue as much as her debut. It was a deep character study full of pain and loss. Highly recommend.
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The storytelling of this novel is tremendously compelling. Moving between the narratives of three generations of one family and the children whose lives were first changed on the fateful day the village madman stole the car keys belonging to the Pexton oil company representatives, we explore the past and present of this one African village with Thula, a child at the time the novel opens, at its heart.

What fascinates me about the novel is not only how wide-hearted it is, but how clear it is at exposing modern day slavery and exploitation. Personal greed and the power of multinational companies are both to blame. The human condition is a complex one that harbours both sacrifice and selfishness, awareness and denial and we are never allowed to rest in any easy dichotomy of goodness and evil, right and wrong.

The land attached to the village, Kosawa, is sold by the head of their country, without their knowledge or consent, to an international oil company called Pexton. Over the years their river and land is polluted by oil mining and their children fall sick and die. How Beautiful We Were is also the story of the people of Kosawa’s struggle to regain their land and receive recompense for the consequences of pollution.

How Beautiful We Were is an impressive achievement that mourns the loss of local cultures, beliefs and traditions. The past becomes kitsch and sentimental, a tourist attraction rather than a living, breathing memory whose meaning informs the present. In a sense the novel mourns the past, exposes how misunderstood it is. Modern culture appears shallow, a monoculture built without thought for any past or future beyond the immediate. It’s a depressing book for this reason, but a beautiful one nonetheless.  We are all enmeshed in each others’ stories and pretending we succeed or suffer alone is simply naive. 

Thula, who goes on to be educated in America, becomes the Fire Lady, a woman tirelessly fighting for her village, for her country, to create a world in which all are valued equally. Her voice shouts loud against a backdrop of corruption and survival. She sacrifices herself to the cause of Kosawa. Will it be enough? Can her voice shout beyond the confines of the novel to call others to her cause? A haunting and beautiful novel, I recommend it highly. Pre-order now. It’s out in March 2021.
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How Beautiful We Were takes place in Kosawa, a fictional African village where the community has been shattered due to the intrusion of an American oil company that has wreaked havoc on the land. Reminiscent of the bleak water situation in Flint, Michigan, the drilling in Kosawa has left the water non-potable and children dead. While the oil representatives promise to compensate the townspeople, they leave them with nothing but their word. Immobilized by anger and fear, the community comes together to fight back. This novel takes place over many years and through the perspective of the town’s children, specifically Thula, who goes on to become a revolutionary. This was a slow, but deliberate and beautiful read. It’s about sacrifice, power, and how to regain your spirit and voice when you’ve been disenfranchised. It made me think of all of the “Kosawa’s” in existence today, fighting the wrath of colonialism and the ravaging of their land. Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for the advanced review copy.
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This is a tough read. Not going to lie. It's one where I had to keep telling myself to stick with it and it would pay off. It is a difficult story and not told in an entirely linear fashion, but it is so beautifully written. It is essentially the story of children dying from drinking toxic water from a pipeline spill. It is told from the perspective of the children. this novel will break your heart, but it speaks the truth, stark truth that needs to be spoken in stark daylight. Thank you to Netgalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE is a sweeping, heart-wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an American oil company. Summoning the lyrical voices of the villagers and illuminating, with great sensitivity, the dynamics between oppressed and oppressed, Imbolo Mbue delivers a unforgettable, fearless story of resistance. It’s a stunning reckoning with the legacies of colonialism, capitalism, and environmental degradation—perfect for readers of Toni Morrison, Jesmyn Ward, Colson Whitehead, and Barbara Kingsolver.

Like BEHOLD THE DREAMERS, this is a novel full of heart, spirit, and compassion. It features a cast of characters that you will desperately champion and sentences that will stop you in your tracks.
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Imbolo Mbue is the author of Behold the Dreamers, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. 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.  Highly recommended as an engaging narrative that is  yet another piece of the puzzle of the future of humanity.
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I have enjoyed this author’s previous novel Behold the Dreamers, so I was looking forward to How Beautiful we Were. Unfortunately, this novel of an American company causing environmental disaster in an African village was a great disappointment to me. The premise was valid and interesting, and  the beginning was good enough to get my attention,  However, by one third into the novel, I was getting bored. It was repetitious and unnecessarily detailed. I just didn’t enjoy the style of writing and gave up less than half way. 

Thanks NetGalley, the publisher and the author for the advanced copy.
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How Beautiful We Were

A sad and depressing commentary on greed, power and industrial growth---- who it benefits and who it hurts. A small village that still holds on to the old ways of life and the spirits of its forefathers to guide them through the present day issues……unsuccessfully and naively.  How could the “ways” of their culture ever give them the means/skills to go up against a big company that has all the money and lawyers they need to keep a village under their control and silenced? Their government was corrupted by individuals that controlled every aspect of their life and were benefiting from this oil company…..so why would they help this village fight against the very source that  was lining their pockets, even as their people were getting sick and their children dying? Discoveries and developments within our environment, which may sound like it would benefit the greater good, sometimes have a problematic trickle down effect we may not always be aware of. The trials of this fictional village will amaze you…...
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I loved the author’s book Behold the Dreamers, so I was excited to read this. Told in alternating voices of a young girl named Thula and members of her family and friends in the village, it’s a heart-wrenching story of a fictional African village seen as inconsequential by a large American-owned oil company who will stop at nothing to make more and more money.  It was well-written but seemed unnecessarily long at times and wrapped up somewhat abruptly. Thula was a wonderful main character - strong, independent and forward thinking. A lot of readers will embrace her. While I liked this book, I didn't love it like I loved Behold the Dreamers.

Thanks to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This is a poignant story about revolution and all the losses that accompany it. I like how the tale is narrated from the perspective of different people living in the village. It is clear that the author expended a lot of energy and time to make these people, and their customs and beliefs appear whole and believable. I didn't like the pacing of the story, it moved too slow for me, and I found the novel a little tedious to read in this climate (with COVID and prominent police brutality cases). The revolutionary tale is timely though, even if it's a bit of a downer.
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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.
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This is an extraordinary book. I was so excited to learn that Imbolo Mbue had a new title coming out! I absolutely loved her most recent book, Behold The Dreamers. This one is quite a bit different in terms of the setting and the tone (it takes place in an African village and is the story of the villagers fighting for their freedom from a big company that has polluted the area and caused harm to their people. The characters are richly developed and the language is beautiful. It deals with an important and timely issue of environmental racism. I thought this book was even better than Behold the Dreamers which is saying a lot because I loved that one.
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An incredible book to read during our current climate. Environmental justice is key to social justice - and Imbolo Mbue brings it straight to the forefront in her latest novel. In a time of reckoning here in America, How Beautiful We Were is a must read.
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A sad and beautiful book, with wonderful storytelling and incredibly poignant. Absolutely beautiful. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
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I loved Behold the Dreamers and was eager to read Mbue's follow up, and it did not disappoint. This is the heartbreaking story of an African village struggling for justice against an American oil company that is poisoning their drinking water and destroying their land. This book explored the perspectives of several different people in the village, but ultimately followed the story of a girl named Thula. This book explores different responses to oppression. I loved the pride the people of Kosawa had in their village and their ties to their ancestors. While I thought this story was beautiful, it did take me quite a long time to read. It is not something you can breeze through quickly.
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Deep in Africa, the village of Kosawa bears the curse of oil. The oldest among the residents remember when the scent of the village became the smell of crude. The drumbeat of capitalism, as personified by an American oil company, has steadily contaminated the region’s natural resources to the point where the children are falling sick and dying. Mbue (Behold the Dreamers, 2016) paints a gripping and nuanced picture of resistance as the town takes on Big Oil through successive generations of its promising citizens. Thula, a young woman who has witnessed nothing but the steady environmental degradation of her village throughout her young life, spearheads the later versions of the fight for justice. The book’s narrative device, a chorus of voices, sometimes stalls the linear march of the story as each narrator tells a similar tale of difficult circumstances, barely pushing the plot forward. This reflectiveness emphasizes the universal ring to the villagers’ epic battle, and the outcomes are tragically familiar. Mbue’s novel offers proof that capitalism is just colonialism masquerading as a different avatar.
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This story is about a fictional village in West Africa, Kosawa and an American oil company who control the village and the African government.  The villagers, especially the children, are suffering from the oil company's pollution that is affecting their water sources and land.
The story is told from the villagers and centers around an upcoming revolutionary, Thula.  I enjoyed her journey as an intelligent girl who is able to further her education in America and returns to her village to help make her government and the oil company responsible for their atrocities.
I had a hard time connecting with the beginning of the story.  Once I understood what was happening, I felt I was able to understand the story as the story unfolded.  Some parts of the story felt too long winded and too descriptive.   If I wasn't invested in that character's perspective, the story felt drawn out.  
Thank you Net Galley and Random House for the chance to read this ARC.
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I received this book as an ARC from #NetGalley and #RandomHouse. The opinions expressed are my own. I requested this book because I liked the premise of a big oil company that causes major environmental damage in a small Nigerian village and how it affects the people of the village, in particular one young revolutionary girl. 

This is a character driven novel. Both the people who inhabit the fictional village of Kosawa and the damaged land of the town itself play important roles in moving the story forward. Each chapter is narrated by a different person or group so we are treated to a variety of perceptions and reactions to the circumstances. 

While I feel like the book tells an important story about how big American corporations can come into poor countries or areas and take over, run roughshod over the indigenous people (after all, we've done it more than once), the part of the book that really captivated me was the cultural aspect. I enjoyed learning about village life and their beliefs and feeling their strong sense of community.

The actual plot follows the expected path of the big, uncaring, corrupt corporation dealing with a corrupt foreign government to the detriment of the 'little people', the people who have no recourse. However, Thula, the heroine of the story, does dedicate her life to try to save her village by becoming the guiding revolutionary force in the village. That path leads to an American education which she takes back to Kosawa to try to help and save the land, save the village.

As a young girl Thula is deeply affected by the ongoing tragedies in her village and vows to find a way to help save her people. Alternating chapters about Thula and "the children" who remain in the village, even as they grow and have families of their own, show how a difference in perspective develops in the way they want to protest the damage to their town. It was an interesting technique to refer to her contemporaries as "the children" throughout the book, giving very few of them names, but always referring to them as a group.

How Beautiful We Were covers decades of corporate cover-ups, neglect, and damage to the environment and certainly portrays the corporation in a negative light. That's contrasted with the simplicity of the lifestyle in the village and the way the pollution sickens and kills their children, ruins their land and their livelihood. 

I was actually pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. I liked the battle between 'good and evil' and 'greed and simplicity', etc. I enjoyed the character of Thula and her ideals - most of the other characters are not as fully formed, but they're complete enough to propel the story. And I really liked the Nigerian setting.

Watch for this book to come out and be sure to give it a try. It would be an excellent choice for a bookclub selection.  4.5 stars from me.
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I didn't want to compare this to Behold the Dreamers, but I did love that book so much.  And I loved this one as well, I just had to remember "It's a DIFFERENT book!" There are many overtones in this book that can be applied to any situation, censorship, dictatorship, corruption, environmentalism. The story begins with a fictional village in Africa.  The author highlights their struggle with a company trying to overtake their land.  It's a very beautiful story.
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