Monday, August 23, 2021

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 384 pages
Published: March 2021

Told over several decades beginning in 1980, How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue, is a heart-wrenching literary novel about a U.S.-based oil company that takes over the land of a fictional African village. To make economic gains, the company does so at the cost of the environment and the people who live in the small village of Kosawa. Thula, the book's main character, is a young girl when the oil company took over her community's land and throughout the novel she emerges as the central figure in the community's struggles. Her personality is different from other girls in the village in that she seeks an education for herself and is an independent and critical thinker. As a result of her dreams, she travels to the United States where she get a post-secondary education and learns about systematically resisting inappropriately assumed authority. She ultimately becomes a driving force in the efforts to regain control of her land. 

This book is an average sized book, just shy of 400 pages, but the content is so much more. Mbue's lyrical prose, haunting descriptions and vivid detail stay with the reader long after the book is over. The story is one most have heard before - profits over people; economy over environment. However, because this book was told over several years with vacillating perspectives it provided depth and understanding of how corporate greed can cause so much physical and psychological damage. 

As I read the book and learned more about Thula, mainly through her letters and narratives of others in her family and village, I likened her to Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party. So much oppression and devastation, as well as the desire for justice for her village, pushed her into a corner. Sometimes we want a happy ending in a book, but there never could be one with this plot. After so many years of marginalization, distrust and violence, how could there be? 

I can tell that the author took great care to craft a well-rounded story. Her writing is spot on, and her creativity evokes emotion. My only critique is that I wish she had included more details about Thula's father and his role in seeking justice. However, it sometimes makes sense to leave some plot elements open and up to the reader's imagination. 

Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it when you have time to truly savor the writing. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.


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