Book of the Month: Behold the Dreamers By Mbolo Imbue

Art is so subjective. Ha. Sometime in the past few weeks or so while I was reading the book of this month, I shared a picture of the cover on Instagram Stories, saying it was a fantastically written book, and someone responded that they found it so tedious. Lmao. She said it felt like the author was rambling unnecessarily. I laughed so hard when I saw that. Because how can a book that I enjoyed so much both for its story and style be so irritating to someone else? And the beautiful part about art, about storytelling in particular, is both of us can be right; it's just about how we perceived it.




That said, I hope I will be able to convince you that the book of this month, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, is an amazing read. The novel details the story of a Cameroonian couple in New York who grapple with the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. And in my opinion, it's one of the best books to tackle the experiences of immigrants in America. Jende and Neni, the main characters of the novel, have recently moved to America from Limbe in Cameroon hoping, as most immigrants do, for a better life for themselves and their six-year old son, Liomi. 


But of course, America is not all roses and they begin to experience this as they struggle to make ends meet with Neni working as a home health aide and Jende driving cabs. Soon, their luck changes dramatically when Jende gets a job as a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers, Clark Edwards and his family. If you recall, the eventual bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, one of the largest in America's history, was one of the reasons behind the recession of the 2007-2008 that rocked the financial world. But anyway as Jende works for the Edwards, Clark begins to trust him even more. And so we see the lives of these couples intertwine against the backdrop of an historic election and America's devastating slide into one of the greatest economic depressions in its history. Sounds familiar? Alongside all that is happening, several things happen in the Edwards' family that show the Jongas that not only is money not everything, but as they say the "rich also cry". But the Jongas too are dealing with their own struggles. Jende has to deal with visa issues and all through the book we are confronted with the faint idea that the family may get deported to Cameroon as Jende waits for his asylum approval. 


One significant part of this book is how it shows us the idealization of America by immigrants; this relentless belief and trust in America that immigrants like Jende and Neni have upheld. Only to see many of those come crashing. Mbue shows America as both bountiful and troubled. I especially loved that because, in many ways the system is much more fragile than many Americans are willing to admit.  She weaves stories of these two families together to show how the quest for the American dream can break you and can sometimes, no matter how hard you try, elude you.


We also see how insulated the wealthy are, how even in the worst economic downturn, they continue to remain enveloped in their cocoon of privilege. But Mbue does a fantastic job of not bashing the wealthy just because. In fact, she allows you to sympathize with them almost as much as you sympathize with the Jongas who life kept hitting over and over due to circumstances beyond their reach. 


Some other important things to note: For instance, it's funny how even though this was written about a recession that occurred more than a decade ago, it is still as relevant today. Second, the best, absolute best part of this book is the dialogue. My goodness, Mbue is masterful with crafting amazing dialogues of the characters. Witty, wisecracking, emotional, joyful, all the emotions we could depict just from characters having conversations with one another makes the book stellar.


Most importantly though, it depicts some of the toughest choices immigrants must make in this country. This country, beautiful as it is in many ways, has wrung out so much from so many people. And I think this book shows that well. In that way, this book is great.


Another thing I like to point out as I often do with books by Africans is that this book does not pander. There are descriptions of Limbe, in Cameroon that remind you that she is an authentic, an original. I love it. 


This book captured me from the very first page till the end. 


I will say that knowing what I know about immigrants, the ending surprised me a LOT but that's all I will say about that. You will have to read it yourself to make your own conclusions. 


This was a debut novel that held its own and can qualify as a masterpiece. But don't take my word for it? Read it and let me know what you think.


Well, that's it for this month! And make sure to come back next month for the book of the month, ok?


Love,


I

No comments