How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

Published: 2021 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Allen and Unwin 3. Landscape [Public Domain] via pxhere

In a fictional African village, an American oil company is drilling for oil. The oil spills are destroying the land and water used by the villagers, and people are dying from the poison. Told from the perspective of different members of the community, the story follows the protests against both the oil company and the dictator-led government.

“When the sky began to pour acid and rivers began to turn green, we should have known our land would soon be dead.”

How Beautiful We Were” by Imbolo Mbue
  • Glanceabook: A heartbreaking story of the exploitation of an African community at the hands of both an American oil company and the government of their own country. At times, it is difficult to keep track of time periods when different characters take up the narrative, but it is a story that is beautifully told, even though a sense of hopelessness pervades the book and, for the reader, lingers after the book is finished.
  • Washington Post: “With a style that conveys the musical cadence of a local dialect, Mbue creates the African village in all its ancient nuance. Time flows and eddies in this telling, rushing forward and looping back the way legends gradually coalesce in the shared memories of scattered people. As Mbue moves through these years, the voices of the children return again and again to describe the struggles of their village.”
  • Kirkus: “Among the many virtues of Mbue’s novel is the way it uses an ecological nightmare to frame a vivid and stirring picture of human beings’ asserting their value to the world, whether the world cares about them or not. A fierce, up-to-the-minute novel that makes you sad enough to grieve and angry enough to fight back.”


“a man’s anger is often no more than a safe haven for his cowardice.”

“She says nothing, in the way mothers say everything while saying nothing.”

“Despite comporting ourselves for decades, despite never resorting to beastly deeds, we hadn’t succeeded in persuading our tormentors that we were people who deserve of the privilege of living our lives as we wished.”

Other edition.

Author: Imbolo Mbue

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