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The Really Popular Book Club is Cambridge University Libraries' book group. Everyone is welcome to come and discuss a really popular book with the group, library staff, and an expert on the novel. Hosted on Zoom, the book club is completely free and open to everyone, people attend from all over the world. 

The Really Popular Book Club celebrates the huge range of books at Cambridge University Library. We have more than 8 million books and as a legal deposit library we keep a copy of every book published in the UK, and have done since 1710.

This March we are marking International Women's Day. How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue is set in the fictional village of Kosawa in Africa and follows the stories of rural community members in their fight against American oil company, Pexton. Enraged by the pollution that is killing children and sabotaging their homeland, villagers take matters into their own hands. As the battle escalates, their plight captures the attention of the press, the courts and international aid. One woman at the centre of the story exhausts every avenue in her tireless fight for justice. Her brother takes a different approach.

Our special guest for the evening will be Emily Zemke, Chief Development Officer for CAMFED (the Campaign for Female Education), which supports marginalised girls in rural sub-Saharan Africa to thrive in school and to become financially-independent young women. Before joining CAMFED, Emily worked for a decade in regional development, building partnerships between Columbia University and schools in Harlem, before moving to take a job at University of Cambridge. She has published on issues of gender, schooling and culture as an education researcher and journalist. About the book, Emily says: 'This book was a gift and not an obvious choice for me but I was intrigued to read how Imbolo Mbue would represent this community and the potential she might find in an educated young woman to bring about change. It was not what I expected.'

To aide the conversation, we have prepared three 'thinking points' to consider when reading How Beautiful We Were:

1. How did you experience the beauty Mbue refers to in her title – either in its presence or absence?
2. This March we celebrate 103 years of International Women’s Day. What are some of the messages about gender and equity that stood out for you in this book? Do you relate more to Thule or Juba?
3. Mbue uses a first-person collective voice for ‘The Children’ – does this change the way you react to them and their opinions and actions? Do you judge Thule as an individual activist in the same way?

If you haven't attended one of our book club events before, you can find more information at

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue is available in book, ebook, audio download and audio CD formats, borrowable from public libraries or to purchase. For information about copies available within Cambridge University Libraries, visit iDiscover.

Where: Online via Zoom Meetings

Registration: Free, booking essential. REGISTER HERE

Date: Tuesday 28 March 2023