A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream--the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy New York Times Bestseller - Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award - Longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award - An ALA Notable Book NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR - The New York Times Book Review - San Francisco Chronicle - The Guardian - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Chicago Public Library - BookPage - Refinery29 - Kirkus Reviews 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' fa ades. 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. Praise for Behold the Dreamers"A debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller."--The Washington Post "A capacious, big-hearted novel."--The New York Times Book Review "Behold the Dreamers' heart . . . belongs to the struggles and small triumphs of the Jongas, which Mbue traces in clean, quick-moving paragraphs."--Entertainment Weekly "Mbue's writing is warm and captivating."--People (book of the week) " Mbue's] book isn't the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, but it's surely one of the best. . . . It's a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American."--NPR "This story is one that needs to be told."--Bust "Behold the Dreamers challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred."--O: The Oprah Magazine" A] beautiful, empathetic novel."--The Boston Globe "A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Mbue is] a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts."--Minneapolis Star Tribune
I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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
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.
Note: I was given an ARC of this title by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Quick read. Average writing.
worthwhile to get an insider's perspective
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.
So many things are perfect about this. Though God knows there are fifty million novels set in New York City, the best of them succeed at making those of us who have lived there supremely nostalgic. This is one of those. Which is not to say that this is a gilded portrait of NYC; in many ways it's dark and dirty, but true to life.
The family (the "dreamers" of the title) are hardworking and inspiring, but not perfect. It's fair to say that this novel works hard to make immigrants and asylum seekers sympathetic, even when they're trying to take advantage of the system. But it's never preachy or unrealistic, and the sympathy it arouses feels entirely appropriate.
If I had a criticism, it's that the rich white male characters (an investment banker and his two sons) felt like thin stereotypes instead of complete characters. But they're not the focus of the story, and it's hard to muster any real outrage at this reversal of norms.
In the end, this is a fast and accessible read that deals -- albeit a bit shallowly -- with some important themes.
I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Thanks!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I picked this novel up only knowing that it had been really well reviewed but not knowing anything about the story or how it would unfold. It was such an engaging read from the very first page. I really came to care deeply about the characters and what life would hold for them. The author of this book does an amazing job shifting back and forth between with colliding worlds in the story. Also, the underlying historical (2008 is that long ago - but still...) setting of the financial collapse is so well handled and really gave this book an extra dimension I found both educational as well as enriching to the story.
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.
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.