“How Beautiful We Were” by Imbolo Mbue is a powerful, painful and heart-wrenching story about a fictional village in Africa called Kosawa, who lives above a large oilfield. A foreign, multinational company headquartered in the US brokers a deal with the dictator in the country, whom the US has installed, to extract the oil and pay the dictator and his government a certain percentage of the profits.
The foreign company has little to know environmental qualms about polluting the air, the water, and the land where the oil is extracted to the detriment of the poor village of Kosawa. Children begin to die from exposure of the polluted conditions, and yet the company nor the government make any effort to mitigate and remediate the situation. Every few years, a local news story brings the plight of the people to the conscience of the international community, some promises of change are made, the village receives some paltry reparations for the damage to their land and the negative impact to human life the drilling has caused, and then they proceed to carry on with business as usual.
The saddest part of this story is that in third-world countries this scenario has been playing out for hundreds of years. The story even recounts a few generations prior to the oil discovery where foreigners came enslaving the people in the village to harvest the sap from rubber trees. Money and power are used as a manipulative force to put one person or a small “ruling class” so that an outsider can exploit local people and resources for their own benefit.
The story is told from multiple perspectives. Ms. Mbue tells the story through various villagers from Kosawa. The old, the young, the children and she tells the story through their eyes as these people age and see the iteration of attempts to fight for themselves, to extricate this negative external source from their village to protect their children and their families. The chapters are long and at times the story drags, but I think it is an important story. It is something to “see” and something to “recognize.” As a person in Western society, in the first world, how are my choices impacting the lives of people around the world. Am I, even indirectly, making a negative impact globally by my lifestyle or everyday choices? It is a question worth considering and reckoning about how I might make different choices in light of my answer to that question.
Get a copy of “How Beautiful We Were” by Imbolo Mbue on Amazon here.
The idea of the novel is nice and always contemporary. I didn’t read it yet.
However, i feel the need to say this as someone who actually lives in a small third world country. Not in Africa, but still counts. Maybe western people think too high of themselves, especially Americans, not realizing they are commoners just like every other commoner class in the globe. Your lifestyle choices are important, but you shouldn’t feel so guilty and obliged to look at others because the life on the west isn’t so perfect either. The change for all will happen when we truly find a way that a common people like all of us can live and that can happen if we find some successful modality for it which is maybe not gonna happen soon. When you think about it, all of us are really not that different. Some have better clothes and go to vaccation, but the modality of life is almost the same, except for some special countries maybe. Current way of the world is that someone can thrive if the others are exploited. That is sad, but it’s the reality and that’s not gonna change much even if you recycle or buy local or whatever else you thought that you could change.
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sounds interesting, thanks for the review!
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