Book Review: How Beautiful We Were

Firstly, look how bloody beautiful the UK front cover is. I do think front cover designs are improving these days, my purchases based on frontispiece alone has skyrocketed. Anyway, my bank account will be pleased that I got this one for free on NetGalley. I have had this one downloaded for a while, but I’ve only recently gotten around to it.

So, this is one of those books that I had SUCH high hopes for. The premise is so pertinent to current western living and environmental pollution; I was looking forward to delving deeper into the topic of western exploitation and the effects of oil spillages. Because we all know this fictional African village is not really fictional – it’s based on real and atrocious events. However, for me, this book just didn’t quite hit the mark. Principally I think the reason is two-fold: the book is told through a lot of flashbacks and the flashbacks are told from over five different perspectives. While I appreciate this is to provide a well-rounded view of events, many of the perspectives felt repetitive and the non-linear progression just made me feel a bit fed up. I felt like I was being thrown around here, there and everywhere. What I will say is that it really interrogates how political progress can be made, when things are often one big moral mess. Any progress made is futile when the very country they plea to doesn’t care about them. While it is empowering when the village finally tries to fight back, the narrative kind of meanders from one depressing set back to another – which is the harsh reality, but we are given minimal solutions to such harrowing heartache.

Image result for how beautiful they were
Buy this book here.

However, what I found really interesting and well-explored is this running theme that the village folk hated the city folk and vice versa. When the village children are offered a better education, their parents are sceptical and do not believe an education is worthwhile – especially if the children will only work in the fields any way and the girls stay at home. The city folk hate them because they are unwilling to progress and still have outdated superstitions that govern their day-to-day lives. I find this conflict between these two classes interesting, but also disheartening. How can the city dwellers expect the villagers to trust them, if indeed they do not give them reason to. There is just a general lack of warmth or kindness throughout this book, and while this isn’t a necessity, I think this book is trying to pick too many battles. It is tackling too many things at once and, as a consequence, nothing really came to the fore (for me).

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.


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