Disclaimer: There may be some spoilers. I have tried to keep them to a minimum, but you have been warned. Happy Reading!
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is full of hope, sadness, and – of course – dreamers. It is also one of the books on my Fall Reading List.
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant, came to America with many hopes, dreams, and expectations for his new American life. After many years of working in America, Jende saved enough money to bring his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son to America so that they could have a life that offered more opportunities.
After landing a job with Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers, Jende feels that he is finally living the American dream and providing a better life for his family. His wife is even been able to work for Mr. Edward’s wife, Cindy. But the wealthy have many secrets that the Jongas are forced to keep and when the financial world is shaken with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, both families are affected by the economic decline that will change them forever.
Behold the Dreamers is beautifully written. The theme is a simple one – the American dream.
Set just after the financial crisis, we get to see the American dream from two perspectives, that of the poor immigrant family that is struggling to stay in America and that of the wealthy upper-class. The characters are multi-layered and the author does a wonderful job of showing the layers of each character.
The author is a Cameroonian immigrant so you get a firsthand experience as to the struggles of going through immigration. Knowing the background of the author, in my opinion, makes the Jonga’s lives even more real. The description of the African culture and how the Jonga’s struggle to stay true to their culture in America is captivating. I really enjoyed reading about the different types of food, traditions, and family dynamic that is prominent in African culture.
Though the story follows two different families, I enjoyed following the Jonga’s life, specifically Neni, more than the Edwards. Watching Jende’s internal struggles play out was fascinating. For Jende, taking care of his family is his strength and weakness. The pride in providing for one’s family is prominent throughout the novel. When Jende is no longer able to provide for his family and is dealing with the likelihood that he will be deported, you see how this shakes him causing him to lash out at Neni and decide that it is time to go home to Cameroon.
Neni also values family over everything, but she moved to America to escape her father and to provide a life for her son and herself that she could be proud of. I believe that Neni has the most growth throughout the book. You see her grow from a naïve woman who has an idealistic view of the America she has seen on t.v. to a woman who realizes that the American dream isn’t really a dream and she will fight for her family regardless of the consequences. She is not afraid to do whatever it takes to provide for them and proves this time and time again.
Behold the Dreamers has much to praise. The story encompasses five years of the Jonga’s and Edward’s life so it does move rather quickly yet sometimes feels a little repetitive. Most of the novel is from Jende’s point of view and he does the same thing everyday: drive Mr. Edwards, interact with a few characters, worry about immigration, and go home.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. The story is beautiful and the characters are vibrant, but this book is heartbreakingly realistic and has an under current of sadness. The characters have growth and, for the most part, the story moved. You see what it’s like to be in America from an immigrant’s point of view and it makes you look at your own life and think about what you may or may not be taking for granted.
This book was outside of my “reading” box, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are a fan of learning about new cultures and/or relationship drama, this book is for you.
I hope you enjoyed my review of Behold the Dreamers. Have you read it? Let me know what you thought in the comments!
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