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Publisher's Summary

A fearless young woman from a small African village starts a revolution against an American oil company in this sweeping, inspiring novel from the New York Times best-selling author of Behold the Dreamers.

One of the 10 Best Books of the Year: The New York Times, People One of the Best Books of the Year: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, The Christian Science Monitor, Marie Claire, Ms. magazine, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews

“Mbue reaches for the moon and, by the novel’s end, has it firmly held in her hand.” (NPR)

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.

©2020 Imbolo Mbue (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Sweeping and quietly devastating...How Beautiful We Were charts the ways repression, be it at the hands of a government or a corporation or a society, can turn the most basic human needs into radical and radicalizing acts.... Profoundly affecting." (The New York Times Book Review)

"What a stunningly beautiful writer Mbue is, and how lucky we are to have her stories in the world." (USA Today

“It’s a heartbreaking and relevant story that seeps into your bones, quickly engulfs you and doesn’t let go.” (The Seattle Times)

What listeners say about How Beautiful We Were

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As relevant as it is heart-wrenching

In a time where folks in the US are defending the need for critical race theory and teaching a more complete and accurate history of our nation’s founding and coming of age ever since…. this novel drives straight to the heart of western colonization, extraction and extermination of African cultures. The extended chapters that illuminate the voices and private wonderings of each character are so moving, so insightful and passionate. Altho the story is fictional, we have too much information to deny the deep truth within it. As I finish the book this evening, I grieve for all the untold loss… of human lives, of homelands, of languages, music, the rituals. I won’t lie, this book was painful. Yet I’m glad to have “read” it for the belief that opening up to these difficult truths will allow me to tap the depths of humanity. My highest praise to you, Imbolo Mbue and thoughts of love and tenderness as you heal and emerge from the experience of the research and writing of How Beautiful We Were.

5 people found this helpful

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powerful story, meh narration

This is a powerful and moving story beautifully written. I mainly struggled with being distracted by the very American accents of the supposed rural African villagers. It really took away from the book's authenticity.

5 people found this helpful

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Oil and Water

“How Beautiful We Were” is a dark, complex tale of the fight between poor Africans and the American oil company that has contaminated their village with their own government’s support. The rivers and the farmland have been poisoned with toxic chemicals from the oil company’s operations. Children are dying. The villagers innocently believe they can persuade the oil company or their unnamed government to do the right thing and stop the pollution. But neither the oil company nor the government is willing to change. The novel follows several members of one family dealing with the crisis. These characters are well drawn, changing as time passes and the situation worsens. Different sections of the novel are narrated by different members of this family—three generations speak—as well as by “the children” who offer an overview of the village’s actions. There were some slow patches in the novel, but overall I found it a well-written, thought-provoking tale of very real problems. The several narrators did a fine job.

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Performance

The performers (narrators) ruined this book for me. Good story though might be better to read it.

3 people found this helpful

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Ambitious attempt to capture reality

This book bit off a big, toxic chunk of what is really happening to indigenous people all over the world and narrowed it down to the lives of a handful of individuals living in one African village who narrated the story. Entrancing at first, the tale soon grew preachy and heavy with on-the-nose wide-ranging reflections & observations made by the characters who became increasingly self-righteous, victimized or corrupted.

2 people found this helpful

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Powerful / Brilliant /Beautifully written

A must read! A story that needed to be told. Wonderfully developed characters. The narration on Audible was superb. Mbue is amazingly talented and she has such a beautiful way with words. I will remember this story always!

2 people found this helpful

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Great story teller!

Such an amazing read! Sad but true and we’ll narrated. I’m looking forward to the next book Mbole Mbue .

2 people found this helpful

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A tragedy, a heroine, a beloved place

So very sad. I had hope, but I knew there are no fairytale happy endings in Africa where imperialism and greed rule. I loved the character of Tula, I wanted her to be victorious. I wanted the Earth to be victorious. But I will give credit to the author, who made it realistic. I loved this book, despite the tragedy that unfolded. The characters and their development were well done, detailed, interesting and deep. Backgrounds were rich and believable. The narrators were fantastic. Each voice was unique and genuine.

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Epic!

it's a large, dense story told very thoroughly. The effects of corporate greed and revolution. Thank you for this offering!

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Beautiful

This is a wonderful yet sad story. The title reveals it all. The past tense is used not How Beautiful we ARE but How Beautiful we WERE. But despite the end it is a beautiful story of courage and resolve.