How beautiful we were A novel

Imbolo Mbue

Book - 2021

"'We should have known the end was near.' So begins Imbolo Mbue's exquisite and devastating 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 a large and powerful 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 ign...ored. The country's government, led by a corrupt, brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight the American corporation. Doing so will come at a steep price. Told through multiple perspectives and centered around a fierce young girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, Joy of the Oppressed is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghosts of colonialism, comes up against one village's quest for justice--and a young woman's willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people's freedom"--

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Subjects
Genres
Social problem fiction
Novels
Published
New York : Random House [2021]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
364 pages ; 25 cm
ISBN
9780593132425
0593132424
Main Author
Imbolo Mbue (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Deep in Africa, the village of Kosawa bears the curse of oil. The oldest among the residents remember when the scent of the village became the smell of crude. The drumbeat of capitalism, as personified by an American oil company, has steadily contaminated the region's natural resources to the point where the children are falling sick and dying. Mbue (Behold the Dreamers, 2016) paints a gripping and nuanced picture of resistance as the town takes on Big Oil through successive generations of its promising citizens. Thula, a young woman who has witnessed nothing but the steady environmental degradation of her village throughout her young life, spearheads the later versions of the fight for justice. The book's narrative device, a chorus of voices, sometimes stalls the linear march of the story as each narrator tells a similar tale of difficult circumstances, barely pushing the plot forward. This reflectiveness emphasizes the universal ring to the villagers' epic battle, and the outcomes are tragically familiar. Mbue's novel offers proof that capitalism is just colonialism masquerading as a different avatar. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Set in Kosawa, a rural village in an unnamed African country, this second novel by Mbue (after Behold the Dreamers) opens in 1980 at an assembly where the locals address their grievances to Pexton, the American oil company whose drilling has been poisoning their land and water, killing their children, and destroying their way of life. After decades of inaction and broken promises by Pexton, the only one willing to speak truth to power in this topsy-turvy world is the village madman, who kidnaps the company representatives, setting in motion years-long cycles of hope and despair. The novel moves between a first-person plural (a "we" consisting of the children of the village) and narration by a village girl named Thula and her various relatives. With the assistance of an aid organization, the highly independent and intelligent Thula is sent to college in New York, where she becomes an eager student of revolutionary movements. VERDICT In this persuasive novel, Thula is a powerful if ultimately doomed heroine, and Mbue makes it clear that Goliath will always defeat David in a postcolonial society ruled by greed, corruption, and untrammeled capitalism.—Lauren Gilbert, Ctr. for Jewish History, New York Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In this follow-up to the New York Times best-selling Behold the Dreamers, a PEN/Faulkner Award winner, the fictional African village of Kosawa is despoiled by pipeline spills from an American oil company. Clean-up and reparations promises are blithe and broken, so the villagers fight back. Told from the perspective of the village's embattled children and the family of the revolutionary girl Thule. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Mbue follows up her PEN/Faulkner-winning Behold the Dreamers with a stirring, decades-spanning portrait of an African village striking back against environmental exploitation. In the 1980s in the fictional village of Kosawa, children are dying, poisoned by American oil company Pexton's leaking pipelines. One small act of sabotage—a villager steals a couple of Pexton representatives' car keys—spurs Kosawa's residents to kidnap their corrupt village headman and the two oilmen whose keys were stolen, and triggers a chain reaction of tiny revolutions that reverberate for generations through transatlantic radicalization and violence in Kosawa, told through the fortunes and failures of Thula Nangi and her family. Thula's father, Malabo Nangi, vanished in the capital petitioning for government intervention; her uncle Bongo is spurred to seek foreign aid after Malabo disappears; and Thula becomes a charismatic revolutionary. With a kaleidoscope of perspectives, Mbue lyrically charts a culture in the midst of change, and poses ethical questions about the resisters' complex set of motives. While a series of repeated reminiscences from various characters and explicit moral lessons stall the momentum, Mbue's portrayal of Kosawa's disintegration is nevertheless heartbreaking. This ruminative environmental justice elegy fills a broad canvas, but falls just short of being a masterpiece. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (Mar.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"'We should have known the end was near.' So begins Imbolo Mbue's exquisite and devastating 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 a large and powerful 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 corrupt, brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight the American corporation. Doing so will come at a steep price. Told through multiple perspectives and centered around a fierce young girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, Joy of the Oppressed is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghosts of colonialism, comes up against one village's quest for justice--and a young woman's willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people's freedom"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A young revolutionary risks everything to secure her people’s freedom when her small African village is decimated by an American oil company that reneges on promises of reparation. By the award-winning author of Behold the Dreamers.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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 bestselling author of Behold the Dreamers.ONE OF THE TEN 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.”—NPRWe 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.