Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Title: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Year Published: 2016


Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 382
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money


Summary (from the inside flap of the book): 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 Edwards' summer house 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' façades.

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.

Review: After the 2016 US presidential election I felt a need to read the story of immigrants and I received a number of "immigrant" stories for Christmas. This book is one of them and the first one I'm reading (yes, it's April. I am a little behind).

Mbue has captured the voices of her Cameroonian immigrants well. I really felt like I was in Harlem with them, experiencing the city with them as they struggled to make ends meet, raise a family, and go to school. The contrast between Jende and Neni and their emplolyers, the extremely wealthy Edwards family was stark. The Edwards' have everything they need (but are unhappy), while Jende and Neni struggle financially, but have a wonderful family life. It's a bit stereotypical, but it played well in this novel.

Spoiler alert: I really wanted the Jonga family to have everything work out green-card-wise, but I also think if it had all gone too well it would have seemed unrealistic. So, the fact that it doesn't makes the book seem more realistic and believable. The same cannot be said for the Edwards family. I found their "happy" ending a bit too fake. I don't believe a Wall Street tycoon could change so quickly and easily.

While there are aspects of this story that seem to pat and expected, I liked the rhythm of the story and the characters' experiences. There was enough tension and happiness to give the book balance and I do feel like I got a glimpse into an immigrant experience.

Challenges for which this counts:

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