How Beautiful We Were
by Mbue, Imbolo

"'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"-

Imbolo Mbue is the author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Blue Metropolis Words to Change Prize and was an Oprah&;s Book Club selection. Named a notable book of the year by The New York Times and The Washington Post and a best book of the year by close to a dozen publications, the novel has been translated into eleven languages, adapted into an opera and a stage play, and optioned for a movie. A native of Limbe, Cameroon, and a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, Mbue lives in New York City.

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.

The author of the award-winning debut Behold the Dreamers (2016) follows up with a decades-spanning account of environmental calamity and its reverberating, often violent impact on a fictional African village. The year 1980 finds Pexton, an American oil giant, in the midst of a yearslong project that by slow degrees is choking the life out of Kosawa, many of whose villagers have already perished "from the poison in the water and the poison in the air and the poisoned food growing from the land that lost its purity the day Pexton came drilling." Whatever efforts the villagers make to seek relief or repairs have been met with relative indifference by the company and brutal reprisals from their nation's dictatorship. But in October of that year, a Pexton delegation that had come to Kosawa to placate its desperate citizenry is taken captive by the village madman, Konga, whose reckless gesture is joined by others who believe their dire circumstances leave them no choice but to fight back. So begins a long, valiant, and costly struggle between this tiny farm village and the seemingly overpowering forces both within and outside its country poised to curtail or ignore its grievances. Mbue tells her story from several perspectives and displays deep and detailed empathy toward men and women of various ages, however they may feel about the bloodshed, imprisonment, thwarted hopes, and pervasive fear that dominate the village for the remaining years of the 20th century. At some point, the concerns of these and other villagers coalesce around Thula, an avid and intelligent 10-year-old girl when the Pexton spokesmen are kidnapped, who later goes to America to become educated about the wider world, though she vows to return to Kosawa someday. When she does, she is intent on setting in motion a plan to "bring down" the country's despotic regime. Meanwhile, the land becomes less habitable, Pexton's promises of reparations come to little, and Thula's patience with legal remedies erodes further. 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, wheth e r 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. Copyright Kirkus 2020 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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