TITLE : How Beautiful We Were

AUTHOR : Imbolo Mbue

GENRE : Literary Fiction, Cultural Literature, Central African Literature

FR RATING : ⭐⭐⭐⭐( 4 .5 Stars)

DATE OF PUBLISHING :  11th Mar 2021


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 marveled at the strong storytelling and can say that Imbolo Mbue’s writing is stunningly captivating. I loved this story so much and loved learning every piece of the puzzle. This is a story that is going to break your heart because of the bleakness, injustice, and hopelessness the community faces at the hands of the Westerners who enslave them. It’s not going to be an easy read by any means because of the subject matter, but I guarantee you that this is an important read that needs to be read by everyone, and there are a lot of relevant discussions that need to happen on the subject matter. The environmental concerns and the consequences of oil drilling and waste disposal to water resources are portrayed remarkably. The environmental nightmare, the devastation, the deaths of people, and the value of life is all discussed fiercely. You feel the passion and anger and disbelief of the village, and it is a gut-churning story of a village’s fight for survival.

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.


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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