Title: Behold The Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Genre: Historical African Fiction
Age Category: Adult
A powerful and timely story of marriage, class, race and the pursuit of the American Dream. Behold the Dreamers is a dazzling debut novel about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – and of what we’re prepared to sacrifice to hold on to each of them.
‘We all do what we gotta do to become American, abi?’
New York, 2007: a city of dreamers and strivers, where the newly-arrived and the long-established jostle alike for a place on the ladder of success. And Jende Jonga, who has come from Cameroon, has just set his foot on the first rung.
Clark Edwards is a senior partner at Lehman Brothers bank. In need of a discrete and reliable chauffeur, he is too preoccupied to closely check the paperwork of his latest employee.
Jende’s new job draws him, his wife Neni and their young son into the privileged orbit of the city’s financial elite. And when Clark’s wife Cindy offers Neni work and takes her into her confidence, the couple begin to believe that the land of opportunity might finally be opening up for them.
But there are troubling cracks in their employers’ facades, and when the deep fault lines running beneath the financial world are exposed, the Edwards’ secrets threaten to spill out into the Jonga’s lives.
Faced with the loss of all they have worked for, each couple must decide how far they will go in pursuit of their dreams – and what they are prepared to sacrifice along the way.
I first found out about this book when I was looking up more Cameroonian authors. It is such a pleasure to see a fellow Cameroonian author who isn't afraid to share about her country and her experiences in the diaspora. I was so excited to read this book and let me just start by saying, I wasn't disappointed.
Behold The Dreamers follows Jende Jonga, a native of Limbe, Cameroon who is living in New York City with his wife--Neni and their son--Liomi. The story starts with Jende getting a job as the driver for one of Lehman Brothers' senior partners--Mr Clarke Edwards and his family. Clarke Edwards has a wife called Cindy and two sons--Vince and Mighty. Even though Jende doesn't have a green card yet, he has big dreams for him and his family and getting this well-paid job is the first step towards achieving those dreams.
Unfortunately, things don't go according to Jende's plan, and when his asylum application is denied, his life and that of his family takes a different turn, leaving him to make many life-altering decisions so he and his family won't be deported back to Cameroon. Then when the Edwards' secrets start spilling, Jende and his family are roped in as their eyes are opened to the reality of life in America.
I loved the representation in this novel. As an African living in the diaspora, I was able to relate to so many of the scenes. The author captured an immigrant's experience so well in terms of how we adapt, the choices we have to make, the hard work involved in settling in, and all the struggles and pain that comes with it. The author didn't sugar coat any part of the immigrant experience and the characters felt so real to me. This story is about resilience, hard work and how far one will go or how much one is willing to sacrifice for a dream.
I loved how the author constantly compared life in Cameroon and life in the US through the characters' eyes. Many of the scenes brought back a lot of memories for me and the book made me miss Cameroon so much. This representation made my heart so happy 😁
That being said, there were two things that bothered me in this novel. The first one is how
Christianity was portrayed in it. Granted, the book is not marketed as Christian fiction and the characters themselves aren't Christians. However, out of desperation to remain in the US, Jende's wife--Neni, at some point runs to the church for help. Being a Christian herself, I thought the author would have used this as an opportunity to share the Truth rather than taking a liberal stance. Perhaps this was what was expected of the author by the publisher, but it just broke my heart to read the sugarcoated gospel presented in this book. This was the most frustrating part of the book for me.
The second thing that bothered me about this book was how Jende treated his wife sometimes. At the start of the book, their relationship was charming and since they had been through a lot of rough times before moving to the US, it was clear they cared for each other. However when the going was tough, and things started to fall apart in their lives, Jende's behaviour towards Neni was appalling sometimes and that wasn't really addressed properly. I found it really difficult to read those parts of the book.
Overall, I liked this story and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the immigrant experience and anyone looking to explore more about other cultures. You can purchase your copy on Amazon by clicking here .
Thanks for reading
God bless you