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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers (2016)

by Imbolo Mbue

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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
An interesting story of a couple's pursuit of staying in America after immigrating from Cameroon during the financial crisis. The first half of the book sucks you in, but about 3/4ths in the story gets sloppy and all the characters begin doing horrible and/or stupid things that you kind of understand why, but it just doesn't fit into the story being told or how the characters have been portrayed earlier in the book. Overall a decent read that you will want to finish to see what happens. ( )
  wellreadcatlady | Jul 9, 2018 |
an immigrant's perspective; well written and easy to read ( )
  rosies | Jul 5, 2018 |
This is a very good debut novel by Imbolo Mbue. It utilizes straightforward storytelling which made it easy reading, yet it doesn't shy away from the difficulties in pursuing the American Dream. A Cameroonian couple hopes to reach for a better life in New York City, but find that it's harder than expected. Meanwhile, the wealthy couple who employs them have troubles of their own.

I look forward to what this author comes up with next. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Jun 3, 2018 |
3.5 stars. I enjoyed this overall, and it was a fast, engaging read. I felt there were a few pacing problems, and some plot elements that just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the book overall.
  photonegative | May 10, 2018 |
“In America today, having documents is not enough. Look at how many people with papers are struggling. Look at how even some Americans are suffering. They were born in this country.” ~ Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers

Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, sifts through all we have swept under the rug of the American dream. A New York Times bestseller and winner of multiple awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Blue Metropolis Words to Change Award, the novel explores themes of race, class, power and privilege from the perspectives of two very different families.

Jende Jonga, a hopeful immigrant from Cameroon, is determined to become a personal chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. For days, he and his wife, Neni, prepare for the interview, polishing Jende’s resume, googling interview questions and practicing the best possible answers. On the day of the interview, Jende dresses in his best suit and clip-on tie. If it goes well, this interview could change his life.

In contrast, the meeting with Jende is just a minor inconvenience in Clark Edwards’ busy day. He asked friends for recommendations, which is how Jende got the interview, but otherwise has not bothered to prepare or even to review the resume in front of him. And regardless of the outcome, Clark has another interview scheduled the next day.

Ultimately, Jende is hired. While the hours are long, the salary is a substantial increase from what he made as a taxi driver and he and Neni are excited about their future.

As a chauffeur in the age of cellular phones, Jende comes to know the Edwards family intimately. On the surface, they are living the American dream. Clark and Cindy Edwards, both of whom come from relatively modest families, are now part of New York society. They attend garden parties, plan extravagant vacations and have a second home in the Hamptons.

But not all is as it seems.

Determined to save the firm from imminent collapse, Clark escapes into his demanding work schedule and high-end call girls. Cindy feels like an imposter and is desperate to hide her insecurities and keep up appearances. Severely depressed, she goes on lavish shopping excursions and self-medicates with alcohol and prescription drugs.

To Jende and Neni, who live with their six-year-old son in a one bedroom apartment in Harlem, Clark and Cindy Edwards are the embodiment of the American dream. They offer proof that in America, even a person of modest means can become wealthy and respected. So how is it possible that they “have so much happiness and unhappiness skillfully wrapped up together?”

Vince, the Edwards’ eldest son, provides some rather heavy-handed insights:

“People don’t want to open their eyes and see the Truth because the illusion suits them. As long as they’re fed whatever lies they want to hear they’re happy, because the Truth means nothing to them. Look at my parents—they’re struggling under the weight of so many pointless pressures, but if they could ever free themselves from this self-inflicted oppression they would find genuine happiness. Instead, they continue to go down a path of achievements and accomplishments and material success and shit that means nothing because that’s what America’s all about, and now they’re trapped. And they don’t get it!”

Unfortunately, Vince lacks any subtlety or nuance and comes across as a caricature of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Eventually he drops out of school to live his Truth, which, of course, can only be found in India. Though the potential was there, Mbue missed the opportunity to develop Vince into a more substantive and believable character.

While Vince plays a minor role and serves as a stock character, Neni has incredible strength, presence and self-awareness. She reflects on the fact that she is changing as a result of living in the United States. And it isn’t just her outward appearance or confidence, but her very character. This shift culminates in her extorting money from Cindy Edwards. But the scene feels forced, and neither Neni nor her husband appear to be the least bit troubled by her behavior, especially once it becomes clear that they will have to leave America and return to Cameroon. Again, this felt like a missed opportunity.

But there are also extraordinary moments, such as when Vince brings his younger brother, Mighty, to Harlem to visit the Jongas. Jendi and Neni were both self-conscious of their small and cramped walk-up apartment with its second-hand furniture and resident cockroaches. But Mighty enjoyed every minute. He was with people who made him feel safe and he had a new friend in Liomi, the Jongas son. It was an elegant illustration of Vince’s earlier, inelegant point about genuine happiness.

There are times when Mbue’s novel is absolutely brilliant, when her observations strike profound truths. But there were also moments when I found myself rolling my eyes or feeling disappointed that she didn’t dig a bit deeper. Mbue is a skillful writer, but I often felt like she was holding something back. I’m looking forward to whatever she does next, especially if she loosens the reins.


Behold the Dreamers, a novel by Imbolo Mbue, published by Random House in 2016.

This book review is presented as part of my personal challenge to read and write a thoughtful review of at least 30 books in 2018. To learn more about this challenge, the books I have selected, and my imperfect rating system, visit www.thescribblersjournal.com ( )
  JoppaThoughts | Mar 30, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Imbolo Mbueprimary authorall editionscalculated
Onayemi, PrenticeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills, a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig-trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
Deuteronomy 8:7-9
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He'd never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview. Never been told to bring along a copy of his resume.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812998480, Hardcover)

For fans of Americanah and The Lowland comes a debut novel about an immigrant couple striving to get ahead as the Great Recession hits home. With profound empathy, keen insight, and sly wit, Imbolo Mbue has written a compulsively readable story about marriage, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream.
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at their summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ facades.
Then the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Desperate to keep Jende’s job, which grows more tenuous by the day, the Jongas try to protect the Edwardses from certain truths, even as their own marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Advance praise for Behold the Dreamers
“A beautiful novel about one African couple starting a new life in a new land, Behold the Dreamers will teach you as much about the promise and pitfalls of life in the United States as about the immigrants who come here in search of the so-called American dream.”—Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Enrique’s Journey

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 11 Jan 2016 01:04:30 -0500)

Imbolo Mbue's debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream tells the story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy.

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