Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

26025588Published: August 23rd 2016

Publisher: Random House

Genres: Literary Fiction, Culttural

Format: ARC Source: Won

My Rating: 4 Stars

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 the Edwardses’ 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’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Goodreads First Reads. All opinions are my own.*

Behold the Dreamers turns out to be not what I expected going in, but I really love some of the story that I got. I knew there would be issues immigration, so I was prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared for the sheer amount of hatred that this couple experienced. Yes, there are simple minded people in this world, but some of this was too hard to read. It’s more than snobbery, and I think some people refuse to acknowledge it because being delusional suits them. If the headlines today aren’t enough of an indication of where this country is headed, then there is no hope for the future. 

Anyways, this story takes us back to the Great Recession and Barack Obama being the first African-American president. Jende Jonga, his wife Neni, and their son are eager for the American dream. Being Cameroonian immigrants is only the start of many hardships here in America. Part of me was disgusted with Jende’s and Neni’s actions. But Neni was so determined to get the life that she’s always wanted and she failed to grasp that dignity and respect is what you need to keep in order to move forward. Jende working for Clark was really a struggle for me. So many times I said in my head, “this is not 1950“. Clark and Cindy Edwards weren’t that well developed, but their lives blended with Jende and Neni to push the story forward. 

What did it for me was Jende’s hankering for Cameroon. He missed his family but Neni doesn’t want to go back there. There’s focus on the hardships for immigrants in America and the harsh realities of what they thought was to be a better life. They now know that living in America is all about race and class. It’s that simple. I appreciate the difference in culture as Jende thought of life back in Limbe. I had the sense that this would be some whirlwind of a tale about the Edwards, which it was in a way, but it wasn’t all about them. Marriages on the verge of collapsing, money, racism, outcries, and the need to retain some self-worth is what this story is made of.

Overall, I like this story very much for the author’s ability to create a story based on some of the experiences that she or others may have had. Parts made me angry, and it took me about 4-5 days to weave through it all because I kept putting it down. Unlike when I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I didn’t get the same quality of writing. This felt more along the lines of basic fiction instead of the literary masterpiece I expected. Still, a great story if you want to know what life is like for an African immigrant in America. So much of this story is like the present, so I really didn’t feel like this was almost 10 years ago. 


15 thoughts on “Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

  1. Great review! I liked that you felt like this was in the present too — it really shows how little things have changed. This one sounds really interesting


  2. I’ve seen this one around and I saw the gorgeous colours of the cover so I really wanted to read it! It does sound a little different than what I was expecting myself but it seems like this one was really good but still so hard to read at times because of what the family experienced. Immigration is such a hard thing to experience based on uprooting and moving to a new place – but when people you meet there are cruel it just makes things that much harder :/


  3. I keep saying (IRL) that it isn’t the 60’s all the time. 😦 I do like the issues this embodies. I think we need more of this experience in the American consciousness. For that reason alone I do want to read it, but I tell you… you have me curious about “Americanah” because of the comparison of the writing. Brilly review!


  4. I got this book sometime back but I am yet to read it. I can’t wait to read it now though.I like the sound of it and the theme of immigrants.

    Just this week my mum was telling me about applying for a green-card because of all these things that she has heard about The States. She even heard that there is no dust anywhere there and apparently people abandon used cars that they don’t want complete with keys in the ignition on the highways(is any of these true by the way?)…but watching news on immigrants’ lives portrays another picture that is a bit scary.

    Anyway, I will definitely push this up my TBR now.Great post!


  5. I can see why this one got you stirred up with the immigration and integration issues along with the display of class differences and difficulty the family must face. How sad that it pulled them apart as a family on top of all the rest.


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