How Beautiful We Were
Here’s an example of a book that got a lot of hype, but fell short for me. So get ready for a mini rant! I highlighted How Beautiful We Were last December after I watched a livestream of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times. Because of the praise, the novel made my list of books I wanted to read. I mean, look at the cover! It’s beautiful, although I’m also sharing the alternate cover below, which does not appeal to me.
What other hype did it get? In addition to The New York Times’ praise, How Beautiful We Were was named one of the ten best books of the year by People, The Washington Post, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, The Christian Science Monitor, Marie Claire, Ms. magazine, BookPage and Kirkus Reviews. NPR also gave the book high marks: “Mbue reaches for the moon and, by the novel’s end, has it firmly held in her hand.”
What’s it about? It’s the story of a fictional African farming village, Kosawa, and their fight against Pexton, an American oil company. Thula, a young woman from the village, becomes her people’s leader as they wage battle against the company which, in collusion with His Excellency’s government, has poisoned their waters, killed their villagers and made their land inhabitable, all for profit.
The story begins in 1980 when Thula is a young girl and spans forty years. During this time, many of the village’s children fall sick and die because of the poisoned water. Their long struggle against corporate America begins when Konga, the village madman, stands up against Pexton’s visiting representatives who then become Kosawa’s prisoners. The situation becomes violent, inciting the village’s younger men to get revenge. Years later, Thula becomes the group’s leader and works with American lawyers to make things right.
Told from several points of view, representing Thula, her mother, uncle, brother and the children, in a collective voice, readers learn the history of the ancestral village, its beliefs and its spirituality, as well as the legal battle with Pexton.
I was disappointed I didn’t like it.
It’s a weird feeling when you don’t like a book that has received so much praise, especially a book that talks about a fight I absolutely agree with. What I don’t like is that because of its themes and backings, the book becomes untouchable. I mean, how can I say a book that has an important theme isn’t good?
In my view, there were a couple problems with it. First, the author reminded me of evil corporate America and His Excellency’s corrupt government too much, almost on every page. I felt that this approach left little room for character development and resulted in a boring and overly long book. I’m reviewing it because I took the time to read it and I’m giving it three stars. Here’s why: I agree we need to do something about government and big business ruining land and wrecking its citizens lives, so this book serves a purpose. In addition, I liked how the author showed the opposing and strong opinions about using violence. And I liked how some characters resisted dedicating their lives to protesting, preferring to just live their lives. Both of those things seemed real to me. But my other issues with the book cap my rating at three. So there you have it!
Here’s what other readers think:
Have you read How Beautiful We Were? What did you think? Leave a comment!
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