By Yasin Kakande

Imbolo Mbue’s “How Beautiful We Were” is a powerful and courageous novel that delves into the devastating impact of Western imperialism on an African village. Set against the backdrop of a fictional African community grappling with the arrival of an American oil company, Mbue skillfully portrays the resilience and struggles of the villagers in the face of environmental degradation and corruption.

Mbue’s unwavering commitment to giving voice to the African perspective is evident throughout the novel. She challenges the prevailing narrative where mostly white saviors speak for the poor African, instead elevating the authentic African voice and experience. This unapologetic portrayal of the African voice serves as an inspiration and a call for more African authors to reclaim their narratives and share their unique perspectives. It sheds light on the destructive forces of Western imperialism and underscores the importance of hearing African voices and experiencing stories from their own lenses.

The novel paints a vivid picture of a once-innocent community gradually stripped of its hope and faith in a brighter future. Through the eyes of the villagers, we witness their growing desperation and frustration as their land, air, and water become increasingly contaminated. Mbue masterfully depicts the devastating impact of pollution, the loss of lives, and the heart-wrenching reality that false promises and empty excuses only exacerbate their suffering.

As the community grapples with the dire consequences of environmental degradation, they face the daunting challenge of confronting a corrupt government and a powerful corporation. Mbue powerfully exposes the destructive nature of corporate greed and the exploitation of both the environment and the lives of the villagers. The stark contrast between the company’s profit-driven motives and the villagers’ struggle to protect their land and way of life creates a gripping narrative that raises important questions about the ethical responsibilities of multinational corporations.

Mbue employs multiple perspectives to tell the story, weaving together the voices of various villagers, particularly those closely connected to the main character, Thula. This multifaceted approach allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the collective experiences, hopes, and fears of the community as they navigate the challenges before them and fight against oppression. Thula, the central figure in the narrative, shoulders the weight of her village’s fate and embodies the courage and determination of those seeking liberation. Through her journey, from the village to New York and back, readers become emotionally invested in her fight for justice and find themselves connected to her and the villagers she represents.

“How Beautiful We Were” is a thought-provoking novel that sheds light on the brutal exploitation endured by the villagers, inflicted not only by their own country’s leader but also by an American oil company. Imbolo Mbue’s masterful storytelling, rich character development, and exploration of themes such as environmental degradation, corruption, and resilience make this book a compelling and important read. It serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring strength of African communities in the face of adversity and the urgent need to challenge systems of power and oppression.

One response to “Book Review: “How Beautiful We Were” by Imbolo Mbue”

  1. Anthony Akaeze Avatar
    Anthony Akaeze

    Thank you Yasin, a writer of class yourself. Will add this to my reading list.

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