Sunday, October 17, 2021

How Beautiful We Were

  How Beautiful We Were
Author:  Imbolo Mbue
Publication Information:  Random House. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0593132424 / 978-0593132425

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "We should have known the end was near."

Favorite Quote:  "... if everyone only did what they ought to do, who would do the things no one thought they had to do? What did enjoyment have to do with duty?"

The beauty to which the title of this book refers is the beauty and bounty of the land and the community that thrived in that land. The "were" is the crux of this book for the land and the community have been overrun by industry and corporate interests.

The main setting begins in the fictional West African village of Kosawa. It is October of 1980. Children are dying. The fields lie fallow. The water is poisoned. Nearby, the pipelines and drilling sites of the American oil company Pexton have pumped oil for decades. The people of Kosawa are fighting for survival in the pollution and for the restoration of their land and their way of life. The Pexton representatives enumerate the ways in which the locals are helped and will continue to be helped by the oil company. The big oil company has the support of the village and the country's dictator. The local villagers differ in the approach with which to deal with the company.

The book tells its story through the voices of different narrators including a group titled the Children for it is the children that are dying. This named yet anonymous narrator at times gives the book the feel of a fable or a Greek tragedy. Perhaps, that effort to make the story universal is by choice for this scenario repeats in many different communities in many different parts of the world. Corporate interests discount pollution and down the impact on the local regions. The communities take different approaches - legal channels, advocacy, protest, and sometimes even more - to counteract big money. It is the David vs. Goliath story. Industry vs. environment and community which, in this situation, seem mutually exclusive.

To my understanding, the Children references an entire generation who is born, raised, and - in some cases - dies in the shadow of the oil company and its pollution. The key named character, of course, is Thula whose journey represents one path in this fight to preserve the environment and the community. Why is this the path highlighted? I am not sure. Why is Thula's path? Again, I think I understand through the explanation of some of Thula's story. "Thula walked around consumed by all the ways the world has failed to protect its children." The broadening of the story, however, takes the away from her individual story.

The theme is universal. However, the telling of it in this way makes the story a little less personal and a little more distant. The story then goes even broader, coming from the village of Kosawa to the United States and back again. The identification of the oil company as American and the journey to the US and back firmly lays the responsibility and the search for environmental leadership at America's door. Again, the point is political and broader than just this immediate story. "Someday, when you're old, you'll see the the ones who came to kill us and the ones who'll run to save us are the same. No matter their pretenses, the all arrive here believing they have the power to take from us or give to us whatever will satisfy their endless wants."

The story itself conveys the sense of loss and tragedy. I do, however, find myself losing the specific thread of the story in the shifting narrators and the generic way of referring to collective groups or even specific characters. I logically understand the loss and sadness. I am not entirely sure I walk away feeling it.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment