Behold the Dreamers: A novel

by Imbolo Mbue

Hardcover, 2016

Status

Available

Genres

Collection

Publication

New York : Random House, 2016.

Description

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member maryreinert
Jende Jonga is an immigrant from Cameroon living in Harlem having come to the US for a better life; his wife and son have now arrived. Jende has been a cab driver but fortunately gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. This novel brings out the cultural differences between the wants and needs of Jende and the wants and needs of Clark. Jende gets to know the Edwards family very well as he also drives for Cindy, the wife, and his sons, Mighty and Vince, who is grown.

The Recession hits and Clark Edwards and his family face a huge change in life style which in turn affects Jende as well. Nini, Jende's wife, wants to do anything possible to stay in the United States, but family obligations in Cameroon and a realization that life might not be much better here are soon faced.

A very believable book, well written and one that allows the reader to walk in the shoes of a recent immigrant with all the struggles, familial, cultural, legal, and financial. Good read.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Fantastic book. Loved the immigrant story. good and quick read
LibraryThing member Carolee888
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is very thought provoking and made me wonder about the roots of violence and crime. This book comes out when one of the presidential candidates is making immigration or the prevention of it the cornerstone of his campaign. What about white collar crime? Who and how much does it harm the country? There are many unsolved immigration problems that need to be worked out. What is moral and immoral? What is the gray of morality?

A family from the Cameroons in Africa immigrated to United States. They settled in Harlem. Jende Jonga came to the US for a better life for his family. His home country had no path for someone poor who had to quit school at an early age. He was working so hard to pay the fees of his immigration lawyer. What do a lot of undocumented immigrants do? Work for cash, like washing dishes for restaurants and as working as a livery cab driver. Jende’s wife came over on a student visa. She too had an education cut short but she was determined to be a pharmacist. Neni was a very determined woman, like Jende working hard for a better future for her son. They had a son named Liomi.

One day, Jende is on top of the world, he got hired to be a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. His income rose to $35,000 a year, he felt that everything was possible. His dream of being an American citizen, supporting his family, getting a great education for his son, buying a house in a good neighborhood could all come true. You really want for this loving family to succeed. Jende was surprised to learn as he drove Clark to his appointments to learn of the difficulties looming ahead for Lehman Brothers. It was hard to understand but he knew it was not good. Also Clark would spend time with another woman than his wife. He also heard Clark’s wife on her cell phone and knew that she was not stable. As time went on, interactions between the two families increased up to the time that Lehman Brothers fell. Like a house of cards, the two families fell down.

From the first page, I could not stop reading. The writing was beautiful, heartbreaking, bewildering and strong. The contrast between the United States and the Cameroons is great as it was between the successful business man and the man with a green card. It made me think about so many immigration issues that are simply not addressed by our immigration laws.
I very highly recommend Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue and would be very excited to read morebooks by her. I learned so much from this book.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the Publisher as a win from FirstReads but that in no way made a difference in my thoughts or feelings in this review
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LibraryThing member Well-ReadNeck
This remarkable debut novel is reminiscent of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (a reading pairing that I would highly recommend). The story follows the Jonga family, recent immigrants to the US from Cameroon. The lives of the Jongas are intertwined with the upper class Edwards family. Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers, hires Jende Jonga to be his chauffeur just prior to the collapse of his firm. His wife hires Neni Jonga for seasonal housekeeping and nanny duties in the Hamptons. As the financial crisis of 2008 unfolds and circumstances become dire for both families, this book confronts the moral dilemmas and privilege head-on. Mbue, a native Cameroonian herself, has written a great American novel.

I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Jende, A Cameroonian immigrant, lands a job with Clark, an executive at Lehman Brothers as his chauffeur. Jende’s wife works temporarily for Clark’s wife, Cindy when she vacations in the Hamptons. When Jende’s asylum case is denied, Lehman brothers collapses, and Cindy’s depression grow worse and worse, Jende considers leaving New York and returning to Cameroon.

I thought the beginning of this book was pretty good. The characters were interesting and dynamic. However, about halfway through the book the author seemed to have gotten lost. The point of view seemed off. Especially the narrative passages where the pov wasn’t clear and the author was trying to show what Clark or Cindy were experiencing. I think the book needs a lot more polishing before I can recommend it. Despite these criticisms, I would be interested in reading more from the author.
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LibraryThing member Neftzger
An interesting look at the recent recession in America. The story centers on immigrants from Cameroon who are struggling in the land of opportunity and watching the fall of Wall Street as it impacts their lives. What I liked about this book was the authentic voices of the characters - these were not immigrants as Americans see them, but rather an inside look into the different thought patterns and beliefs that were brought here by those from another culture. Although we all know the story of the recession, this book provides a fresh perspective and shows how many people were impacted by the event in unlikely ways.

Note: I was given an ARC of this title by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member lindaspangler
Good insight into immigrant life in US. Not always predictable, which I liked.
Quick read. Average writing.
worthwhile to get an insider's perspective
LibraryThing member brangwinn
This is the kind of book that remains with me. When I look at an immigrant, I realize I don’t understand the issues they are dealing with at all in a foreign culture. Yes, America is great, but if you are among the many families struggling for legitimate visas, worrying about deportation trying to raise a family while being subservient to employers who hold the key to everything in your life, life is much different that for those of us born here. The image of a duck calm on top of the water, yet paddling as hard as they can came to mind while I was reading this book. I loved the juxtaposition of the Cameroonian family working for a wealthy Wall Street banking family. Each had their own problems. One involved the use of drugs and alcohol and denial of how they got to be in such an envied position and the other the determined effort of a family for education and a salary that would allow them to meet the monthly necessities.… (more)
LibraryThing member melissarochelle
Read from March 23 to 29, 2016

A solid debut novel about a Cameroonian couple's quest for the American Dream. The novel shows the dream of America versus the difficulties of actually living here. The characters were realistic and multi-faceted. I both loved and loathed some of them -- each making terrible decisions and then showing kindness and compassion. I was surprised by the end and think this would make an excellent book for discussion especially given the current political discussion on immigration.… (more)
LibraryThing member charl08
I finished Behold the Dreamers, a book I got as an ARC through Netgalley. I really struggled with the opening chapters of the novel (I don't much want to read about Wall Street). Beth liked it a lot more and I picked it up again as a result. The second half - when Wall Street had collapsed (not exactly a spoiler there) and (some of) the Cameroonian family started to question what was the point of leaving home to travel to a country with severe economic problems, was a lot more interesting to me, something I'd not read before. For me, the novel would have been more compelling if she's assumed knowedge (of mad Wall Street lives and hard illegal migrant ones) and maybe focused on a return. A good, if not great novel. The humour and pointed comments about some assumptions made about 'Africa' made for a lighter read than the topic might suggest.… (more)
LibraryThing member SignoraEdie
Poignant story of an immigrant Cameroon family trying to build a life in NY.
LibraryThing member c.archer
What is the American dream for an immigrant? This novel attempts to give the reader a taste of that experience and achieves it in an amazing way. This book is a winner in my opinion and quite timely in its presentation of the life of immigrant families.
The life of a poor immigrant is certainly anything but glamorous! Hard work might get you something, but even that isn't enough when you are an illegal and dealing with the federal immigration courts.
This story presents the lives of an immigrant family from Cameroon who only want to work and study hard and continue to try to live out their hopes and dreams surrounded by the freedoms of America. They have left all they know and staked their claim on this dream. For awhile it appears that they might be among the ones who succeed, then things begin to unravel.
I relished the reality of this story and how it gave me a taste of the immigrant experience. Its timing is superb, and it highlights both the best and the worst of being in The United States of America. If like me, you are sympathetic to the the dreams of all to achieve success and safety, this book will be right up your alley. If you have a more austere viewpoint on immigration, you might still be pleasantly surprised and find this a good read. I urge anyone to give this one a try. I believe the author is trying to make a statement that is certainly not what you might expect when you begin reading.
I thank the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this title. It was certainly a treat.
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LibraryThing member debann6354
Fascinating book about immigrants from Cameroon, makes you ponder difference between refugees fleeing a dangerous, despotic country as opposed to immigrants coming to this country to better themselves. Loved the main characters, both have many sides to them. I highly recommend listening to the audio book. The narrator, Prentice Onayemi, is wonderful, he added a depth to the story that I don't think I would have gotten from reading the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
A very timely novel about an immigrant family in New York City and their struggles, often in contrast to the very different challenges faced by the family of a businessman they work for. If this book wasn't set in the very recent past, it could almost be historical fiction, as time and place ground the story - the recession, Obama's election, Lehman Brothers, all figure largely in the tale. The ultimate conclusion is somewhat surprising (if realistic) and makes one wonder if perhaps the United States is failing in some ways.… (more)
LibraryThing member gbelik
This is a touching story of an immigrant couple from Cameroon and a wealthy Wall Street couple at the time of the economic collapse and how their lives intertwine. The immigrant part of the story is so hopeful and so difficult and so timely. I'd strongly recommend it.
LibraryThing member froxgirl
This novel, by an American from Cameroon, defines the immigration experiences of a couple from that country. Their love of and fascination with New York City is big fun. Those of us who come from NYC or lived there are so jaded, and it's wonderful to see the glories of Manhattan in 2008 through new and naïve sets of eyes. At least at first. But circumstances change. Husband Jende and wife Neni ruefully learn so much from the 1%ers who employ them, and also from an ingratiating immigration lawyer, a college dean, and from all the native Cameroonians whose company they relish.

This is a graciously written tale with almost perfect flow. And also a chance for the reader to learn so much about Cameroon, a country that seems worthy of a visit (if not to live there).
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LibraryThing member KateVane
Jende brings his wife Neni and their son to the US from Cameroon. They have high hopes for a better life. Jende is looking for a decent income, Neni wants to train as a pharmacist and to escape a society where life for a woman is circumscribed.

As Neni pursues her studies, Jende gets a great opportunity, to become a chauffeur to a senior employee at Lehman Brothers. This is 2007 so we know what is coming, but to Jende and Neni, this seems like the beginning of the life they dream of. They can save for a decent home and for Neni’s college fees. But first Jende needs to resolve his status as an illegal immigrant.

Behold the Dreamers vividly brings Jende and Neni’s worlds to life. Although most of the story takes place in the US, we get a strong sense of their life in Cameroon through their thoughts and their Cameroonian friends. We see New York through their eyes. Neni, in particular, loves the freedom and the new experiences it brings her, and has a wide circle of friends. It is only later that the different perceptions of the couple come to the fore.

The author has avoided the obvious clichés. The couple are not well off but nor are they destitute. Jende’s boss and his family are not archetypal evil capitalists. Jende is claiming refugee status even though he is not a real refugee. All these things mean that when challenging times come, there is no easy and obvious moral position for the reader to take.

Behold the Dreamers doesn’t always deliver in plot terms. It sets up a lot of things which aren’t paid off. They just happen, then something else happens. This normally bugs me in a novel (yes I know that’s how it is in real life) but here somehow it didn’t. I was enjoying the story and the characters so much I was happy to go along.

I loved the energy and humour of Behold the Dreamers and raced through it, while also wanting it not to end.
*
I received a copy of Behold the Dreamers from the publisher via Netgalley.
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
18. Behold the Dreamers (audio) by Imbolo Mbue
reader: Prentice Onayemi
published: 2016
format: Overdrive digital audio, 12:14
acquired: Library
read: Apr 13-24
rating: 3½

I started this blind. I found it on my library Overdrive audiobook list, thought the description had some appeal, put it on a wish list, then promptly forgot the description. After I finished [Homegoing] my thought process was something like, "look, another new African woman novelist. Sounds good."

It's an enjoyable first novel about Cameroon illegal immigrants in New York City trying to get asylum. It has a mock formal tone, and a lot of humor with a fairly serious underlying message. All the conversations are unrealistic, but they work, and they are consistent throughout. One thought I had, while listening, was that the book could go on and on and I probably wouldn't mind. It wasn't intense, ever. But it was always entertaining. And reader was excellent, managing remarkably varied key voices.

Sadly, with the exception of one notable scene, I think the book was very realistic, to the point that I wouldn't be surprised if Mbue based most of the characters directly off of people she new. They have some unrealistically perfect elements (not perfectly good, but perfectly in character, if that makes sense), but they seem generally very believable. And she carefully avoids judgement, mostly.

A week later much of it doesn't stick. But I liked enough and would read Mbue again.
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
When Oprah announces a new book, I am always that person running out to buy and read it immediately and I am never disappointed. Behold the Dreamers is a moving novel about the American dream. It explores what home means to us and it really gives you a glimpse into the typical life of an immigrant.
Jende Jonge is a Cameroonian immigrant who has come to New York to make a better life for himself, his wife and their children. He believes everything is better and anything is possible for Americans.
He finds a job as a chauffeur. He quickly develops a relationship with the Clark Edwards, the businessman he drives around. “Theirs was a solid bond as could be between a man and his chauffeur. Their bond had been firmly established-they were two men bound by the relationship they had forged after cruising on highways and sitting in rush hour traffic.”
Jende and his wife Neni wake up every day and do everything they can so their children can have a good life and be somebody one day. Neni has always dreamed of America. To her, America was synonymous with happiness. “America might be flawed, but it was still a beautiful country. She could still become far more than she would have become in Limbe.” It is the land of boundless opportunities and a place where her children could have a bright and better future.
Then the financial world that Clark Edwards’ is a part of suddenly crashes and the country is in a horrible recession. Things quickly go downhill for the Jonges. Jende is out of a job, possibly facing deportation, having severe pain caused by stress and worried sick about providing for his family. Neni says of her husband, “He hadn’t been the same man since the day the letter for the deportation hearing arrived. He was now a man permanently at the edge of his breaking point. It was as if the letter of his court appointment had turned him from a happy living man to an outraged dying man intent on showing the world his anger at his impending death. For the first time in a long love affair, she was afraid he would beat her. And if he did, she would know that it was not her Jende who was beating her, but a grotesque being created by the sufferings of an American immigrant life.”
Jende, “They say this country will get better but I don’t know if I can stay here until that happens. I don’t know if I can continue suffering just because I want to live in America. “It’s just not easy, this life here in this world.” “It’s a long hard journey from struggling immigrant to successful American.”
The book also gives you a look inside the Edwards’ family. Clark’s wife, Cindy is a troubled and unhappy woman. Neni soon finds out that despite her image of being a self-assured woman, Cindy has a need for a sense of belonging, an utterly desperate need she could never seem to quench.
Cindy came from a very poor family and had an abusive mother. “I came away from all that. I worked my way through college, got a job, my own apartment, learned how to carry myself well and fit effortlessly in this new world so I would never be looked down on again, or seen as a piece of shit. Because I know what I am and no one can ever take away the things I’ve achieved for myself. I fight hard to keep my family together.” Cindy really starts to unravel, even with all the money and the life they have, Cindy is still truly unhappy. Her whole life beginning to seem more and more meaningless, she needed to do something now if she ever hoped to taste happiness again.
Will the Jorges make it in America or will they be forced to return to their country? Will their marriage survive the hardships they endure? Will the Edwards’ marriage survive? Will Cindy Edwards find a way to finally make peace with herself? Can a man can find a way to make a home anywhere?
I wish everyone would read this book so they could better understand the immigrant situation in our country. Mbue says of immigrants: “They return home because they can’t remain in our country to make better lives for themselves. America is a country that has forgotten how to welcome all kinds of strangers to our home. There are many out there who do not have a warm, peaceful country to return to. There are many for whom the only chance at ever having a home again is in America.” And in her novel, “Behold the dreamers,” we meet and fall in love with two such immigrants, Jende and Neni.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
3.5 I went back and forth, trying to decide whether or not I liked any of these characters, except form the young children of course who were victims of circumstances they could not control. Was pretty sure I liked Jende for most of the book until he did something I abhorred. Nein too does something, out of desperation, but I did not much like her for it. The Edwards, Cindy and Clark were pretty much representative of the privileged culture, or at least how they are usually portrayed. I did eventually sympathize with them all for various reasons and in the end that didn't matter to me so much as the story.

If it shows nothing else it definitely showed the disconnect between immigrants, the privileged and even those who were born here. So a worthy and timely read, especially here in the USA where one of our presidential nominees is running on a platform of fear, hatred and bigotry. This book shows how tenuous the hold on their lives are for some. Lawyer fees, trying to get papers to stay in this country, work toward a better for themselves and their families. The author set this just before the collapse of our economy in 2008 and in fact Clark Edward works for Lehman Brothers as an executive, as he loses his job, his marriage disintegrates as does the future of Jende's family. Jobs are now scarce, college educated people willing to take the jobs the immigrants once occupied. So many lost their houses and their livelihoods.

I enjoyed reading about the difference in their lives between New York, living in Harlem and Cameroon, where they are from. The ending surprised me somewhat, well I didn't expect the direction it took. But, for this family it made sense. This novel is not perfect and like most probably doesn't reflect all but it does give the reader an inside view of one such immigrant family. A well told and thought out story, this the author's first.

ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member fhudnell
America's relationship with immigrants is complicated, dangling the American dream while at the same time withholding it. This book was an illuminating look at a family from Limbe, Cameroon who try to establish a life for themselves in New York City. Sometimes this works out, and sometimes it doesn't. This was an excellent book, especially from a first time author.

Jende Jonga, his wife Neni and their six year old son are living in Harlem. Jende has a job as chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, his wife Cindy and their two sons. Neni is studying to be a pharmacist and works as a home health aide. The book illustrates how precarious their position is without green cards. Complicating the lives of the Jonga family is their entanglement with the Edwards family. Cindy, who is weighted down by self pity, eventually causes a crisis for the Jongas. The fact that this book is set at the time of the Lehman Brothers collapse also resonated with me, because I knew many people who lost their jobs then.

Prentice Onayemi, the narrator of the audiobook, did a very good job with all of the accents.

I received a free copy of the e-book from the publisher, however I wound up borrowing and listening to the audiobook from the library.
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LibraryThing member janismack
I liked this book because it gave me two different perspectives of the 2008 recession. An african family trying to gain permanent residency in the united states and an american family directly affected by the fall of the Lehman Bros, these were the characters in the book.
LibraryThing member bogopea
A tale of Cameroon immigrants who came to America (NYC) for a better life. Then life got in the way. It's a wonderful story with a lot of dialogue between the couple as well as the people they interact with. So I felt like I knew them (Jende and Neni) quite well and I was invested in them emotionally. Every immigrant's story is different and so it was even between these two people. The book didn't end with the American Dream realized, but it ended with hope for their future.… (more)
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, author; Prentice Onayemi, narrator
To Jende Jonga, from Cameroon, America was truly the land of opportunity. In Limbe, where he was born, it was beautiful and the people were always smiling and friendly. However, there, it was impossible to improve one’s circumstances. If you were poor, you and your descendants were trapped in an endless circle of poverty.
After acquiring a temporary visa to come to America, through somewhat nefarious means, Jende sought out the help of an immigration lawyer to obtain permanent status and was advised to seek asylum to accomplish his goal. Soon, after many menial jobs, his cousin Winston, also a lawyer, helped him to get a job with the wealthy Edwards family, as a chauffeur.
Jende worked hard and saved his money. He soon sent for his wife, Neni, and his small son, Liomi, to join him in America. Although, they lived in an apartment with roaches and it was a multi-floor walk-up, it seemed like nirvana to them because this was a country that offered opportunity for all, but especially for their children. Neni enrolled in school and was studying to become a pharmacist. Soon she was expecting another child and a daughter was born. They often sent money home to their family, as well. Things were looking up. As a chauffeur, Jende got to know Mr. Edwards and his son Vince very well, as well as their youngest child, Mighty. Neni, too, sometimes worked for the Edwards family as a nanny and also as a server at parties. She got to know Cindy Edwards and her son Mighty very well. Both Jende and Neni, unwittingly, became confidants of their employers, and soon, they would find themselves in compromised situations that questioning their loyalties to either their spouses or their employer, forcing them to choose one over the other..
In 2008, the country was hit with an economic downturn and Mr. Edwards, a partner in Lehman Bros. was suddenly out of a job when the firm collapsed and was not rescued by the government. Although he soon got another job with Barclays, his wife began to suspect that he was unfaithful. She placed Jende in an untenable situation, demanding that he reveal where he took Mr. Edwards everyday. Because of his background, he assumed that the man in the family was in charge and made all the decisions. He chose to trust Mr. Edwards and remained loyal to him. He kept his secrets from Cindy and Neni. At this same time, Cindy Edwards was abusing drugs and alcohol, and Neni chose to remain loyal to her husband who demanded that she remain neutral and not get involved with the family; she said nothing about it to Mr. Edwards.
When Jende suddenly found himself unemployed, he realized that America was not all it wais cracked up to be, and he didn’t know if he had the strength to continue to fight to remain in the country. Many questions arose. Immigration had turned down his asylum petition, and he had to appeal and appear before a judge. He knew he might be turned down again. Neni didn’t want to leave school. One child was now an American citizen having been born in New York. How they solved their problems and reacted to their difficulties is really what the book seems to be about. The clash of the American culture with the Cameroon culture and the clash of the rights of women in America and the rights of women in a Muslim country became front and center. As Neni became more independent and sure of herself, Jende seemed to grow more and more threatened and insecure. As she began to love America more and more, he became more and more homesick for Cameroon and their happier, more easygoing way of life. He became more and more disillusioned with the social climbing culture of America as Neni became more and more enamored with the materialism of America.
I was left thinking about many questions which would be great to discuss in a book group. What was the effect of the secrets they kept, on each of their lives? What was the effect of their different dreams, hopes and views about their future on their lives? Who was ultimately in charge in America, the male or female, husband or wife? Who was ultimately in charge in Cameroon? How did the inability to deal with reality effectively, affect each of the characters? Both the immigrant family and the American family had problems. How did each attempt to solve them? Which was more successful? How would you describe Vince’s attitude about life? Who had the right idea about how to live and what was important? Whose values were least important? Whose values were to be most admired? Were the wounds of these characters self-inflicted? Which character achieved his/her dream? Each of the characters was caught between competing lifestyles and loyalties. Could the situation have worked out differently if different choices were made or was the end inevitable?
The problems of American families that have everything and the immigrant families who have nothing were well contrasted and both fell short of achieving the happiness each was seeking. The rights of women in both cultures were examined. The behavior of men in both cultures was scrutinized. The inability of both cultures to fully comprehend the problems of the other was documented. Their prejudices were highlighted. It was interesting to see which of the sexes in each culture had the most power, in certain instances, and in what ways they asserted that power. In both cultures, it would seem that circumstances decided whether or not the capacity to do good or evil resided within them. The problems of immigrants in America was very well discussed and exposed.
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