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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.

“A novel with the richness and power of a great contemporary fable, and a heroine for our time.” (Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend, winner of the National Book Award)

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

What the critics say

"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)

"Mbue reaches for the moon and...has it firmly held in her hands." (NPR

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

What listeners say about How Beautiful We Were

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  • Benjamin W. Adams
  • 2021-04-04

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.

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  • Mikal Gibson
  • 2021-06-08

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

1 person found this helpful

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  • David
  • 2021-06-28

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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2021-06-25

Great story teller!

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

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  • Ang
  • 2021-06-07

painfully beautiful

Excellently told! But the story was heartbreaking. So close to the reality of peoples around the world. If only stories like these could instigate change.

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  • Lmethot
  • 2021-05-18

Loved this book

Wow such a great book so much to think about!
So much to learn.
Thanks so much Imbolo Mbue for writing and sharing this book.

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  • A. Koren
  • 2021-03-14

A Masterpiece!

Easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. Deserving of all the most reknown book awards!!! Spectacular!!!