Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

I read this book in the summer and my apologies for not posting about it sooner as it’s a really great book. I found it on one list or another and had taken a screenshot with my phone so when I went searching for summer reads, I came across the photo and decided I was in. I’m glad I saved the photo.

Behold the Dreamers is a beautiful story that to me seemed so much about the search for the American dream and all the challenges that might come with that search. The story begins with Jende Jonga who is an immigrant from Cameroon who came to America to provide a better life for his wife and son who are able to join him in Harlem. Jende believes he is lucky to secure a job as a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers, Clark Edwards. As the story goes on, Clark’s wife, Cindy, offers Neni a temporary role for the summer at their home in the Hamptons. Outwardly, it all seems so great to secure such good opportunities but nothing is ever as it seems.

The story beings in the fall of 2007 and if you are at all familiar with Lehman Brothers, their collapse plays a big role in all four of their lives with Clark as a senior executive who essentially provides for his wife and through employment, for Jende and his family. The collapse is far reaching and has consquences far beyond those who lost their jobs, their homes and more. It provided a dramatic device for the story.

The story weaves through Jende and Neni’s life and Mbue beautifully tells a story that could be familiar to many immigrants. The dreams they have, the challenges they face and ultimately, the reality of their situation as Jende tries to secure asylum. The story is told from both their views which gave me an understanding of how they both felt about their situation and the motivations for their actions. There is a cast of great characters including Liomi, the Jonga’s son, Winston, Jende’s cousin, Vince and Mighty Edwards, Clark and Cindy’s sons and many others that play a role in the Jonga’s life.

I read this up at my cottage, which meant that I read much of it in the company of others (you could ask the neighbors, there are often four people sitting on the dock reading their own material). I gasped at a part later in the book and someone asked if I was reading a thriller. It wasn’t that at all, it was words that a character said that I found shocking knowing that had those words been said earlier in the book, it could have changed everything. Those words haunted me after but such is life I suppose.

Add this to your list if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it!

K

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