Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
This was one of those books that I kept seeing all over instagram last year and had wanted to read it for ages, it was also an Oprah Book Club selection for last Summer and we all know Oprah picks some great books for her book selection! I was recently convinced to read Behold the Dreamers by Kimberly Davis Basso, the author of my previous book review for I’m a Little Brain Dead. I saw it on her instagram account and she told me how amazing it was and was inspired to finally get stuck in and read it. So a big thanks to Kimberly for kick starting my inspiration to read this great book.
Behold the Dreamers is an amazing book, it’s about race, class, immigration, family values and the highly sought after ‘American Dream’. It follows a young man from Cameroon, Jenda Jonga, who has immigrated to Harlem in search of a better life for himself, his wife Neni and 6 year old son Liomi. Jende, who works as a cab driver in NYC, can’t believe his luck when he is offered a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive for Lehman Brothers. This job completely sets Jende and his family with much needed financial security and he is able to finally afford Neni’s university fees, as well as save for his immigration case and be able to send money back home to their families. They can truly begin to imagine a brighter future for themselves in America and try and achieve their goals with this incredible income. Not long after, the epic fall of the Lehman Brothers leaves Jende stressed, worried and afraid of their future seeing as they may lose their steady income. This collapse also threatens and tests Jende and Neni’s marriage in a way that they have never had to face before, and in the end they are dealt with an impossible choice that could make or break their family and relationship as well as their future.
I loved this book. If you want a book with character, heart, and just an all round great story then pick yourself a copy of this fabulous book. I liked how it highlighted what life is like for new immigrants seeking asylum in the states and the ups and downs of the American court system. It had a very real aspect to it and is very relate- able if you have immigrant parents, or have been through the immigration process or even know anyone who has gone through it. Although it was based on the past decade during 2008, it’s still very much true to our current political climate and the immigration system. This is a great book to read to experience what new immigrants go through in order to gain some sort of legal status in the U.S or any Western country. It is a very difficult and harsh process to always be in limbo of not knowing how your particular case will go. This is what the Jonga’s go through day in and out, it tests their patience, and their marriage to a point where times are tense and unpredictable. It totally resonates with political and social issues dominating in Europe, the US and even Australia.
I liked how short the chapters were in this book, this was a very easy book to read and was written in a clear and readable way. You literary whiz right through the chapters and it left me wanting to read more and more of it. The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the ending, it definitely was a surprise ending and wasn’t expecting it to go that way at all. I was very disappointed in that, I guess in a way I could see why Mbue went with that ending but it made me detest Jende towards the end. In a way, it wasn’t his fault to why things turned out the way they did. I blame the American immigration system, who knows how else the book would have ended if things were a little more positive. It was a very realistic telling of what asylum seekers go through and how relentless they have to be to be able to achieve any sort of legal status. I also quite liked the story of the Clark family (The American wealthy family Jende works for). It showcased that just because a family can have all the opportunities in the world, it doesn't mean that everything in life comes easy for them. Every family shares their own problems and challenges and the Clark family is no different to that. Although, having said that, in my opinion. the life of immigrants is much harder than of those who are well of and ‘have it all’. You can’t even begin to imagine what most immigrants go through in order to have the chance to be able to live a normal life with basic opportunities. I liked that Mbue wrote about two very different families, it definitely set her story apart from other similar book titles with similar stories.
It was a very enjoyable read filled with complex stories and experiences. I enjoyed Mbue’s writing and it also made me want to try some Cameroonian food! The descriptions in this book of their cuisines just sounded so interesting! I was hooked on the story from page 1, and that’s a rare thing for me. Great book to get lost in and also informative on the immigration asylum process.
Below are quotes from Behold the Dreamers that I found interesting;
This quote showcased how immigrants never ever discuss their immigration status to strangers- there is always a fear of being reported to Immigration by people whom you cannot trust. It’s a universal unspoken rule. - Never discuss your immigration status to anyone except close family and your lawyer.
“ Bubakar had warned them to guard their immigration story and share it with no one…. “No one except me, you, the Almighty, and the American government should know how you entered this country and how your trying to stay in it.” he had cautioned repeatedly. He knew of the consequence of their scheme being leaked to the government by a hateful individual:...Neni had agreed with the lawyer’s advice to protect negativity and malice. “
Bubakar, the lawyer speaking with Jende.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you that life is going to get easy for you next month or next year, because it might not. It’s a long, hard journey from struggling immigrant to successful American. But you know what my brother? Anyone can do it. I am an example that with hard work and perseverance, anyone can do it.”
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Domestic Fiction.
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