“I’m waiting and waiting for a response and I’ve got nothing to do but more waiting so I’ll wait until I have nothing else to do but wait.”

Genre: Literary Fiction

Pages: 364

Published: 9th March 2021

Rate: 4 stars

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

My Take

Having read Imbolo Mbue’s first book Behold The Dreamers and absolutely loving it, I was super excited to read How Beautiful We Were and it did not disappoint. Let me start by saying, if you compare these two books you will not enjoy them as you should.

How Beautiful We Were is a compelling read with an interesting premise that had my attention right up from the synopsis. Imbolo Mbue’s writing shines in this novel. It’s structured and conscious and right to the point and that is something I really did appreciate.

Imbolo Mbue explores how corporations in Africa operate and the cost of capitalism through the city of Kosawa and in as much as this is a fictional village, it mirrors our reality so well.

“He’s a child present but gone, so young in age, so battered in spirit.”

We have many voices narrating the story from different generations and it made for an interesting read as we got to see and hear things from different perspectives. The characters are distinct in how they are written and they were captivating whenever they graced the page. My only problem with the book was that some characters weren’t developed well enough for me.

How Beautiful We Were is an engrossing, evocative read that was captivating from the start with the characters and the plot and is a book that I do recommend.

Have you read How Beautiful We Were? What did you think about it?