The powerful audiobook production of Imbolo Mbue’s haunting second novel, How Beautiful We Were (14 hours), is a rare display of superior casting and direction. This story about a clash between an American oil company and a fictional African village is read by a cast of six actors: Lisa Renee Pitts, Prentice Onayemi, Janina Edwards, Dion Graham, J.D. Jackson and Allyson Johnson. Throughout flawlessly distinct sections, multiple characters tell the tale of the village’s resistance to the company’s poisoning of their children. Each actor’s voice and tone heighten the distinct styles of the narrators, which include different members of the Nangi family as well as a chorus called “the Children.”
Given Mbue’s skillful use of suspense, narrative distance, physicality and interiority, this is not an audiobook for multitasking or to provide background noise. The intense readings will lure listeners into the strangely palpable world of the novel. Exquisite.