Ecofiction Books

When the sky poured acid: Review of ‘How Beautiful We Were’ by Imbolo Mbue

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This novel is about a way of life lived in close proximity to nature that is being systematically destroyed by the demands of ‘development’. It is a polemic which seeks to expose the powerful who thrust their plans upon a people without seeking their opinion.

Set in a fictional African village, the story is as close to reality as it gets, with its nuanced peeling of the complexities of human nature. Imbolo Mbue excels in unravelling the dichotomies of existence.

Not leaving much to chance, the story starts by presuming its own end: “When the sky began to pour acid and rivers began to turn green, we should have known our land would soon be dead.”

The reader comes to expect a plot charting the defeat of a tiny village at the hands of a corporate giant and this is precisely the tale told by Mbue. What is unexpected is the way she depicts individual suffering, which usually gets subsumed in records of mass oppression.

Ultimately, the familiar David-and-Goliath tale of tussle between a ruthless oil company and a defiant forest community veers towards a nuanced exploration of self-interest. Capturing the changes wrought in people contaminated by industrial crimes, Mbue delivers compelling vignettes of resistance and compliance, neglect and exposure, litigation and corruption that make the exploited people lose their sense of purpose.

Like her award-winning debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, about an African immigrant struggling to become an American citizen, this one too empathises with the legal and constitutional inadequacy of individuals fighting for survival. How Beautiful We Were is an impactful novel which will rekindle hope in the resilience of the human spirit.

How Beautiful We Were; Imbolo Mbue, Canongate Books Ltd, ₹699

The writer is an independent researcher and academic.


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