“I think of the stories I write as love songs. They might not be love songs in the traditional sense but they are written as an homage and a celebration of the people and places and books and ideas and events and visions that inspire me to keep writing.”
Imbolo Mbue’s stunning 2016 debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, marked her as a significant new literary voice. Praised by The New York Times as “savage and compassionate in all the right places,” the book won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, was the Oprah Book Club selection for 2017, and became a national bestseller. Her second novel, How Beautiful We Were, establishes her as a writer firmly in charge of her storytelling gifts.
“[Behold the Dreamers] isn’t the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, but it’s surely one of the best…. It’s a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American.”
In Behold the Dreamers, Mbue explores marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream through the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy. Of it she says, “I was interested in examining both sides of the American Dream—those striving to achieve it and those who’d already achieved it and were equally striving to hold unto it. These pursuits take a toll on both families in the novel, as it does on countless families in America, regardless of which side of the Dream they’re on.”
Behold the Dreamers has been translated into eleven languages, adapted into an opera and a stage play, and optioned for a miniseries. It was named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, Kirkus Reviews, and the Chicago Public Library among others.
“Exceptionally strong. It’s a heartbreaking and relevant story that seeps into your bones, quickly engulfs you and doesn’t let go. How Beautiful We Were is a novel that will incite action and hopefully change. It’s fuel added to the already raging fire of conversations about climate change, environmental issues and the ever-present and still lingering problems of colonialism.”
Mbue’s newest novel, How Beautiful We Were, is a sweeping tale about the collision of a small African village and an American oil company. It is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold on to its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom. Mbue herself grew up in Limbe, Cameroon, a seaside town with an oil refinery. She witnessed firsthand life under a dictatorship, and was fascinated by the people who rose up against corporate greed and systems of injustice. The novel was inspired in part by this childhood fascinations, and draws heavily from historical and contemporary social and environmental justice movements as well as several current cases of environmental degradation caused by oil exploration.
National Book Award winner Sigrid Nunez calls How Beautiful We Were “a novel with the richness and power of a great contemporary fable” and Mark Salzman, award-winning author of Iron and Silk, deems it “a masterpiece.” Named one of the top 10 books of 2021 by The New York Times, the book was praised by People as “a brilliant exploration of modern colonialism and capitalism—and the fight for justice.” The New York Times called the book “sweeping and quietly devastating… How Beautiful We Were charts the ways repression, be it at the hands of a government or a corporation or a society, can turn the most basic human needs into radical and radicalizing acts. Profoundly affecting.” and USA Today concluded “This one’s going to grab you.” It is longlisted for the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
A graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, Mbue lives in New York.here.