Cover Image: Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

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Member Reviews

This novel resonates with contemporary social and political issues dominating in the US, Europe and Australia, where there is a growing and visceral tide of hatred and rage against immigrants. Imbolo Mbue has written an illuminating book on the immigrant experience amidst the hollowness of the American dream set in New York. The story is told from the perspectives of Jende Jongo, and his wife, Nemi, who are from Cameroon dreaming of a better future in their new home. They have a son, Liomi, for whom they have high hopes. The stage is set for an exploration of their precarious lives buffeted by economic and social forces beyond their control as the 2008 financial collapse is described in terms of its human cost.

Jende is working as a cabbie when he lands the dream job of chauffeur to Lehman's executive, Clark Edward, who demands Jende keeps his secrets and give him his absolute loyalty. The two men become close and Clark's wife, Cindy, gives his wife, Nemi, a job as a housekeeper. Cindy confides her thoughts and secrets to Nemi who is hard working and hoping to become a pharmacist. We are given an in depth insight into the laborious and costly process of trying to acquire a green card. The spectacular collapse of Lehman has enormous repercussions on the Edward family. Clark loses his job and the strain on his marriage results in its collapse. Jende and Nemi find themselves with divided loyalties and caught up in the slipstream of these events, and there is a simultaneous similarity as their future comes under threat. We observe the contrasts between a family of privilege and a family with little and the power dynamic in the relationship between the two. We see the yearnings for home, Cameroon, whilst trying to fit into a new home, the eternal immigrant heart caught between two worlds.

The novel perhaps underscores the naivete of the dreams of the immigrant given the harsh reality of the world. Mbue touches on the issues of race, culture, violence, pain, and the impact of male decisionmaking on women. The writing is beautiful at times although the characters and plot feel a little uneven on occasion. However, this takes nothing away from a novel that is a timely and pertinent story that carries an authentic picture of an immigrant experience. The characters of Jende and Nemi are complex and captured my interest easily. I loved the portrayal of their home country and their connections with it. A wonderful and insightful book that I recommend highly
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Thank you Netgalley for giving me the opprtunity to read such an amazing book. The story is set before and during the economic crisis of 2007/2008. The main theme of the book is an old one "Follow the American Dream". This time, however the opproach is different and I enjoyed it so much. We see the American Dream from two different angles. On the one hand, we have the Jende Jonga family, Cameroonian immigrants who are desperately trying to get the green card and stay in the USA (New York). On the other hand, we have the Edwards, a wealthy upper class family, living in New York, who show the positive and negative idea of paradise held by the immigrants. 
The Jongas are deffinitely West African in their ideals, cultural practices, and still they wish to give their son and daughter a better life possible. There are so many cultural differences and multi-layered perspectives in this novel. For example, the Edwards, eldest son longs to abandon the law school and leave USA for India in search of spirituality and a better inner life, whereas Jende truly believes that the opprtunity to become a lawyer is the best thing he could give his son. We also notice the contrasts between a family of priviledge and a family with little and the powerful dynamic created between the two. We see the yearnings for home, Cameroon (Limbe town), whilst trying to fit into a new world, the eternal immigrant heart caught up between two worlds. There are so many other interesting themes and issues treated in this novel, the problem of race, violence, man controlling women, marriage, divorce, economic crisis, etc. There is so much pain and grief that traspasses in this novel. The plot is character driven, and the language is simple but wonderful. Definitely a novel that I would love to re read in the future!
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This is one of the best books I have read this year. I loved it. Beautifully written, with an unusual and very clever structure that allows Imbolo Mbue to tell two New York stories; the first of Jende and Neni and their son, immigrants in 2007 to the US from Cameroon, and the story of Clarke Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers just before the crash, and his lonely and once poor wife Cindy Edwards and their two sons. Jende secures a position as Clarke’s chaffeur and it is through his listening ear that we gain access to Edwards’ family dynamics. Both families are following the American Dream…
Jende and Neni’s voices are wonderful and give such evocative insight into the stresses of being an immigrant, desperate to retain a job and ultimately a green card. The relationships that develop between Jende and Clark Edwards, and also between Neni and Cindy Edwards, when Neni is given a job minding their nine-year-old son in their summer house, negotiate the power/trust/racism boundary between the master and servant dynamic with empathy and  a sense of realism. This novel has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and it has my vote. A stunning debut novel. Thankyou to Netgalley and the publisher for an Advance Reader copy, although it is such a wonderful book I have also bought my own copy!
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​Book 107 of 2017: "Behold the dreamers" by Imbolo Mbue. 409 pages. Reading time: 7 hours spread over 3 days.

This is one of the few books that held my attention from the beginning until the end.

Lembe, the Cameroonian, who overstayed his American visa to file for asylum.

A couple of years later, he send for his wife and son. They dream of a better life but America has other plans for them.

Imbolo writes this book in such a way that you hold your breath until the last page. She keeps you wondering what the next event in Lembe and Neni's lives will be.

She beautifully captures the struggles many immigrants face living in America and working jobs they never would have imagined.

The emotions are tangible...sometimes it gets so much you're moved to tears. You definitely cannot help being empathetic when reading this book.

Rating: 5/5

Favourite quote: "...and for the first time in her life, she had a dream besides marriage and motherhood; to become a pharmacist like the ones everyone respected in Limbe because they handed out health and happiness in pill bottles."
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4.5★ - A debut? You’re kidding! 

Cameroon, where some families are so poor, we’re told, they give their children away. It’s supposedly a win-win. The kids have a better life with a wealthier family, and the poor family has one less mouth to feed. Sound appealing? No? I didn’t think so, and neither did Jende Jonga.

To escape poverty, Jende went to America as a visitor, overstayed his visa, brought his wife and young son over, and now keeps trying to get ‘papers’ so he won’t be deported. They live in a tiny, unpleasant fifth-floor walk-up in Harlem, and they all sleep in one bed. But – they are in America and their son is going to an American school! 

“‘Columbus Circle is the center of Manhattan. Manhattan is the center of New York. New York is the center of America, and America is the center of the world. So we are sitting in the center of the world, right?’”

Cameroon isn’t a war zone, so their dream is pretty simple – good jobs, good schools, nice home. Neni is studying chemistry at a community college, dreaming of being a pharmacist. They have many Cameroonian friends, some on the other side of the country, and a few are influential. 

One gives Jende a reference to wealthy Clark Edwards, a Wall Street man looking for a chauffeur. Long story short, (not a spoiler), Jende works for Clark, Neni gets work with his wife, Cindy, and they become friendly, one-on-one, somewhat at arm’s length like family servants. 

Clark is always working, so Cindy busies herself with social functions and their two boys. But then the oldest boy announces he’s going to search for fulfilment in India and skip college.

Neni finds Cindy in a bad way one day, and Cindy suddenly confides in her.

“‘I came from a poor family. A very, very poor family.’ 

‘Me, too, madam—’ Cindy shook her head. 

‘No, you don’t understand,’ she said. ‘Being poor for you in Africa is fine. Most of you are poor over there. The shame of it, it’s not as bad for you.’”

Neni has enough sense to stay quiet, [while I, smugly feeling more culturally aware than Cindy, was annoyed with Cindy]. As it turns out, however, Cindy’s family and youth actually WERE more horrifying than Neni’s. And there is, of course, some truth to accepting as the norm whatever you and your friends have. [I feel suitably humbled.]

Neni sympathises, realising she had, and still has, a warm, loving family. So she keeps Cindy’s secrets to herself, just as she keeps her own legal situation secret. 

Cindy’s dream is a happy home. Or as Jende hopes“ . . . some marriages did not need to be happy. They needed only to be sufficiently comfortable, and he hoped the Edwardses would at least find that.”

As Jende struggles with their legal troubles, Clark’s company, Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy, plunging the world economy into the Global Financial Crisis. Jende has overheard many conversations but has been very discreet, keeping Clark’s secrets to himself.

Eventually, Jende and Neni realise their jobs are in jeopardy and the way they each choose to deal with the secrets they’re keeping drives a wedge between them. 

Not only will you see the fallout from the GFC from a different angle, you may appreciate being exposed to another culture, a lot older than most.

This seems very real and plausible to me, sad, true and one of those I-don’t-know-what-the-answer-is situations. There is a fair bit of teaching and preaching, but that’s understandable. Something I did notice (again, in a book by an African-born author living and writing in America) was this, from Neni.

“Nothing shamed her more than black people embarrassing themselves in front of white people by behaving the way white people expect them to behave. That was the one reason why she had such a hard time understanding African-Americans—they embarrassed themselves in front of white people left and right and didn’t seem to care.”

The English of the Cameroonians fluctuates between relatively proper English, and then a kind of loose English with some Cameroonian words and phrases thrown in, and finally there’s the excited language they use with each other in America. It’s a loud, colourful, mish-mash of English, French, Cameroonian and could be the language used in Cameroon now, Cameroonian Pidgin English. 

I loved this particular passage, where Neni’s and her friend are having coffee with Neni’s handsome young instructor, who shocks them when he mentions his boyfriend.

“The instructor laughed. ‘I take it you ladies don’t know many men with boyfriends?’

Fatou shook her head. Neni’s mouth remained ajar. 

‘I don’t know no gay man from my country,’ Fatou said. ‘But my village we used to got one man who walk lika woman. He hang his hand for air and shake his derrière very nice when he dance.’ 

‘That’s funny.’

‘Everybody say he musto be woman inside, but nobody call him gay because he got a wife and childrens. And we no got no word for gay. So, I am happy to meet you!’

There is a lot of Cameroonian food and hospitality. Neni misses bargaining for food and reminisces about how mothers stretch meals in Cameroon, cooking so children take leftovers to school for lunch. [Handy tip follows!]

“If the woman was smart she would make the food extra-spicy, so the children would have a sip of water with every bite, get full faster, and the food would last longer.”

For Fatou, the friend shocked by the gay instructor, she finds there’s a price to pay for bringing her kids to America. They tell people they are American.

“Only when prodded did they reluctantly admit that well, actually, our parents are Africans. But we’re Americans, they always added. Which hurt Fatou and made her wonder, was it possible her children thought they were better than her because they were Americans and she was African?”

And for Neni, if her children were to miss out on growing up in America:

“They would lose the opportunity to grow up in a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers.”

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for the preview copy from which I've taken the liberty of quoting.
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To be published in numerous magazines in June: Jende and Neni are firm believers in the American dream. They know if they put the effort in, they can achieve a better life for themselves and their son. Jende works long hours as a chauffeur for the wealthy Clark Edwards and his family, while Neni does care work and studies to be a pharmacist. Then Jende is told his application for a green card has been rejected. As cracks also start appearing in the Edwards family’s lives, it seems the American dream may not be all Jende and Neni hoped for.
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The novel looks at the American Dream from two perspectives. First there is Jende Jongo, a Camerronian asylum seeker i New York who, just before the collapse of Lehmann.s, secures a e=well-paid job as chauffeur to Clark Edwards, a senior Lehman's executive. The story also encompasses the lives of their wives and children, and the impact that the circumstances of their husbands' has on family members. Both families face challenges: Jende and his family experience the disorientating effects of their lack of security in the land of their dreams, whilst Clark and his family show that material wealth doesn't guarantee a happy life either. Both husbands aim to do the best their family, but each fails to some extent. 

For me, perhaps the most inteesting characters were the two wives, Neni and Cindy. In particular, Neni shows ambition and strength of character, more so I think than her husband who exerts control over his wife's life because of his entrenched views of the roles of men and women.

I did find that the novel became more uneven towards the end, and I wasn't entirely convinced by some of the actions that some of the characters took. I also thought that occasionally at the end there was an element of saccharine creeping in. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more from the same author.
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The biggest strength of Behold the Dreamers is its relevance: we should keep humanizing migrants in this ever-more-hostile America. It is inarguably an important subject in today's political climate. That said, the novel didn't do much for me. The major plot turning points felt inevitable. The revelations about the hardships of immigrants (and the vices of Wall Street), unsurprising. Both protagonists -- Jende and his wife Neni -- were often unlikeable. (Perhaps those character flaws were the result of their immigration struggles, but it made them hard to root for.) The writing sometimes felt simplistic. And the foreshadowing about August being a cursed month in Cameroon, but no end twist? Major Chekov's gun. Perhaps it's difficult to live up to all the buzz it received, but this fell flat.
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Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collings UK, 4th State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.
This novel, written by an author hailing from Cameroon, like her characters, tells us the story of the Jongas, a family of emigrants trying to make a go of life in the USA, more specifically in New York. Jende strikes it lucky at the beginning and gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big executive for Lehman Brothers. That seems to open many opportunities for Jende and his family, paving the way for all their dreams to come true. Unfortunately, the undoing of Lehman, some personal issues in the Edwards family and the pressure of their unclear immigration status (Jende arrived with a 3 months’ busy that he’s overstayed, his wife has a student visa but they might not have enough money to finance her studies to become a pharmacist and their son would have to go back if the father does) change all that.
The story, written in the third person alternating the points of view of Jende and his wife, Neni, is full of details of the subjective experience of the characters, from the worries about their immigration status, the variety of connections with people from home (from parties, to disinterested advice, emotional support…), their feelings about New York (their favourite places, the cultural shock of confronting new rules, prices, weather, standards and extremes of poverty and richness), their initial shock and later better understanding of the Edwards lifestyle, the educational opportunities and the effect of the stress of their situation on their personal lives.
Both characters are credible, engaging and easy to empathise with, even when we might not agree with their actions and/or decisions. They also have dreams and wishes for their future and their family. To begin with, they both think the USA will change their lives and open up avenues they’d never be able to pursue back home. Jende couldn’t even marry Neni back home and his wife had to live with her parents and had no chance to study. Everything seems possible in the USA, but slowly it becomes clear that things aren’t as straightforward as they thought at first, that being white and rich in America doesn’t equal happiness, and that not everyone is prepared to give them a chance. 
There are funny moments and also very sad ones (especially when the couple disagrees and their relationship becomes difficult) and one can’t help but become invested in the story and the future of the couple and their children, who become ersatz members of our family. If at times the Jongas appear as victims of circumstances and a system that they don’t understand, at others they take things into their own hands, and, whatever we might think about what they do, they act. The book is beautifully written and offers an insight into lives that might be different to ours but we can easily share in.
On a personal note, I was a bit disappointed by the ending, not so much by what happens but by how it comes about, and I wasn’t so sure the reactions of the main characters towards the end of the book were totally consistent with the personality they’d shown so far, although it might be possible to see it as a result of the extreme pressures they experience. What that would suggest of the likelihood that their Cameroonian dream will end up becoming a reality is the crux of the matter but something left to the imagination of the readers. The scene towards the end of the book between Clark Edwards and Jende Jonga where they share their future plans (both of them moving on to a future more in keeping with family values and less with work), makes us think of how differently the women of the book see things compared to their men. Gender relations are one of the most interesting and troubling aspects of the novel.
A solid book with great characters that deals with important issues (domestic violence, family relations, cultural differences, immigration, asylum seeking, race relations, the Lehman Brothers and the economic crisis following its fall, the American Dream…), is a joy to read and it will make you consider many those topics from a different point of view.
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I have to say I found this to be a very average story.
It had a good start but became very tedious and the characters were difficult to relate to.
Worth reading only if you have nothing better to do.
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I was excited by the beginning of this very readable novel which explores the American immigration experience from the point of view of Jenda and Neni Jonga, economic migrants from Cameroon who strive to build themselves a good life in New York. Mbue has a good ear for dialogue and I found her central four characters convincing. After a cousin recommends Jende for a chauffeur job, we get an interesting juxtaposition of two families leading almost completely opposite lives. Jende and Neni have little in the way of material possessions, but enjoy strong family bonds and a good relationship. Jende's employer, Clark Edwards, has his Lehman Brothers banking career to thank for his personal wealth. His family lack for nothing in a material sense, but are sadly dysfunctional from an emotional perspective. Money cannot always buy happiness?

Unfortunately, from this strong start, I became increasingly more disappointed as Behold The Dreamers progressed. The narrative struck me as frequently too light and superficial for its themes and I felt uncomfortable with Jende's asylum application being fraudulent and this blithely portrayed as the normal route. In the present near-hysterical political climate regarding migration, refugees and asylum, I think a more responsible approach to the topic is needed. Propagation of the 'all immigrants are liars' myth doesn't help anyone.

The psychological effects of Jende's immigration battle are what particularly drives Mbue's story. As readers we see very little of the bureaucratic process itself, but can understand how the stress affects his temper and divides his family. I didn't find many of their actions actually believable towards the end of the novel though and Neni's passivity is infuriating. Overall, Behold The Dreamers is nicely written and did hold my attention throughout. I liked the range of characters and the evocation of New York, but I would have liked a deeper exploration of this emotionally charged and politically sensitive subject.
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This is the story of Jende Jonga and his wife Neni who come to New York from their home in Cameroon with a belief in the American Dream. Though still without a proper work permit, Jende manages to get a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, shortly before the company’s collapse. Neni is studying pharmacy, looking after their little son and occasionally working for Mrs Edwards. All is well for a while as the couple earn good wages and are well treated by their employers. Their hopes for their son’s future as an American citizen seem within reach. Once the collapse comes, however, things begin to fall apart. 

Jende learns things about Mr Edwards that put him in an awkward position. At the same time, Neni learns things about Mrs Edwards that give her power over her. When Jende loses his job and is in danger of being sent back to Limbe, their home town, Neni must decide whether or not to use her knowledge. Tension arises between the couple as Jende is softer-hearted than his wife yet traditional in his belief in the dominance of the husband. 

Behold the Dreamers is both funny and sad and the writing flows easily along. I was engaged in the story of this couple’s dreams for a better life and wanted them to succeed in what they set out to do. Yet all the time we are aware of the corruption at the heart of the American Dream and the ease with which it can come crashing down. Obama is in the future in this novel and holds out hope for improvement. Knowing what we now know, however, we can only bring a certain cynicism to our reading and wonder if perhaps the Jongas would not be happier in their own country than battling against an immigration system that cares nothing for personal aspirations.

One thing I expected to be explained which wasn't, was why the Edwards's son was called Mighty. A minor point but it still seems an unusual name with a story to it.
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The story of Jende and Nene, immigrants from Cameroon to America, hoping to live the American dream, is a story worth reading. We follow events, good and bad in their quest. The characters tug at our heart, we want them to find their dream. But is the dream really what they think? This book really makes you question the important things in life. Does it have a happy end? Perhaps. This is one of the best books I have read in some time.
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'Behold the Dreamers' is a beautiful debut novel that explores the constant gnawing that a soul experiences in the search for something more. And in this case, the striving towards the elusive American Dream.  

The book looks at two different angles of the American Dream story in the late 2000s. It primarily focuses on a Cameroonian couple, Jende and Neni, and how they try to make a life for themselves and their son in New York City. The book shows their struggles with searching for employment, immigration rights and how the constant threat of deportation is always looming large over their heads. The fear and anxiety caused by this constant need to look over one's shoulder and to never feel settled or secure plays almost like a main character in the story. It provides the background to every conversation and decision made, in particular by Jende, and provides a very tense atmosphere throughout the book. 

Neither Jende or Neni are perfect characters. They are very richly written and feel quite authentic as the two characters have traits that are both admirable and ones that are less so. At times I absolutely hated Jende for his ideas about what is a husband's role and what is a wife's. He is a character that will test you because there are occasions when you will feel so much goodwill towards him, and at other times he will crush you with his seeming coldness or blinkered narrow mindedness. Neni was wonderfully complex too. I loved her almost blinding desire for everything American and how it made her do things that you could have thought were out of her character. America both tested and changed her. The book had a lot to say on the marriage between these two and how this striving for some intangible American Dream slowly twisted them further apart and tested the elasticity of their relationship. 

The story also looks at the flip side of America. It looks at wealth and materialism through the eyes of a New York couple who become linked with Jende and Neni. This couple, the Edwards, felt a little less authentic to me. Although they were written well and I enjoyed their storylines, I felt the plots involving them were a little more clichéd and perhaps just lacking a maturity of writing.  However, this is a debut novel so I am more than willing to forgive a few flaws because this whole book showed wonderful promise for the future of this writer. 

I was thoroughly gripped by the story of Jende and Neni. This was very much a character driven novel and those are always my favourites. It was a very quiet, subtle read and ultimately, I found the book to be a wholly moving reading experience. 

Recommended. 

*A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins UK: 4th Estate, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*
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This is a readable and well-written book centred on Jende, an asylum applicant from Cameroon living in New York with his wife Neni, who studying in the hope of becoming a pharmacist. It is set at the period around the collapse of Lehman brothers, and Jende gets a job as chauffeur to a senior Lehman Bros executive. We see him and his wife working hard to chase the American dream,  and the moral bankruptcy of the way that of that dream is bound with money and all the devious practices with which money is often involved. The issues raised by the book are as relevant today as they were at the time of the Lehman Bros failure; but I have given the book three stars because I found it hard to engage with the characters.
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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.
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Behold the Dreamers was, presumably, written some time before immigration became the political issue on everyone’s lips; as I write this review, the world is horrified by Trump’s order to ban travel from 7 countries, and his general attitude towards immigration. It all lends an even greater sense of pathos to Jende’s attempts to secure a permanent home in America for his country; when questioned by his boss about his desire to become American, Jende responds, “everyone wants to come to America, sir. Everyone. To be in this country, sir. To live in this country. Ah! It is the greatest thing in the world,” and it’s a sentiment repeated throughout. Jende’s wife, Neni, was subject to her father’s control back in Limbe, unable to work or marry Jende; in New York, she can study and work towards her dream of becoming a pharmacist. Her desperation about their perilous status in the USA drives her to church, where she rhapsodises about her idea of “Americans who wanted to keep good hard-working immigrants in America.” In my mind, these words were juxtaposed with the images of the protests against Trump’s immigration policies. Behold the Dreamers is heavily caught up in what America is and what it represents, and, as such, it’s a timely book to read in 2017.
Aside from the topical nature of aspects of its plot, Behold the Dreamers is a hugely involving story, replete with contrasts that make the novel’s points incisively. Jende, Neni and their son, Liomi, live in a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem; Jende’s employer, Mr Edwards, lives with his wife and son in an opulent apartment with views of Central Park, where everything is white and shining: imagery of purity and perfection which is swiftly undercut by Mbue’s presentation of the wealthy Edwards family as far more broken and just as troubled as their citizenship-seeking counterparts. Clark Edwards is a key figure at Lehman Brothers, and so Jende’s American Dream is set against the backdrop of an American nightmare, giving Behold the Dreamers another degree of resonance.
I really enjoyed Behold the Dreamers. While its plot seems particularly devastating in light of current events, it also offers its reader an absorbing family saga as well as an insight into deeply contrasting walks of life. Jende and his family are impossible to forget, with Behold the Dreamers offering heartache and warmth, as well as harrowing drama.
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With thanks to Harper 4th Estate via NetGalley for the opportunity to read this. 

A timely and emotionally charged story about a family from Cameroon hoping to improve their own and their children’s chances in life by leaving their home and attempting to settle in America. Their experiences ring true as their precarious immigrant status is threatened by one piece of bad luck or bad timing after another. At the same time this is a thoughtful exploration of how people (regardless of their wealth and social status) and their marriages and families are affected by extreme stress and how ideas of right and wrong become irrelevant in a crisis. Although I found some characters’ behaviour jarring towards the end, this didn’t really detract from my overall sympathy with their situation. An accomplished debut novel and I look forward to seeing what she tackles next.
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Do not set this book aside! Behold the Dreamers takes us into the recent past to explore morality and family, against the setting of the 2008 Wall Street collapse. It is an easy ride, carrying you along with married couple Jende and Neni as they settle in New York City. The couple begin to flourish as immigrants and their lives are intertwined with the wealthy family Jende works for. Each family gives and takes something from the other.

Jende's descriptive nostalgia for the town of Limbe in Cameroon is contagious, which makes perfect sense as it is the author Imbolo Mbue's hometown as well. The author shows a generous spirit to all her characters and following episodes of their lives is a pleasure, while Neni is unveiled as a person of great resource and drive. Anyone who has settled in a new town and felt homesickness or ambition will enjoy Behold the Dreamers.
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This novel resonates with contemporary social and political issues dominating in the US, Europe and Australia, where there is a growing and visceral tide of hatred and rage against immigrants. Imbolo Mbue has written an illuminating book on the immigrant experience amidst the hollowness of the American dream set in New York. The story is told from the perspectives of Jende Jongo, and his wife, Nemi, who are from Cameroon dreaming of a better future in their new home. They have a son, Liomi, for whom they have high hopes. The stage is set for an exploration of their precarious lives buffeted by economic and social forces beyond their control as the 2008 financial collapse is described in terms of its human cost.

Jende is working as a cabbie when he lands the dream job of chauffeur to Lehman's executive, Clark Edward, who demands Jende keeps his secrets and give him his absolute loyalty. The two men become close and Clark's wife, Cindy, gives his wife, Nemi, a job as a housekeeper. Cindy confides her thoughts and secrets to Nemi who is hard working and hoping to become a pharmacist. We are given an in depth insight into the laborious and costly process of trying to acquire a green card. The spectacular collapse of Lehman has enormous repercussions on the Edward family. Clark loses his job and the strain on his marriage results in its collapse. Jende and Nemi find themselves with divided loyalties and caught up the slipstream of these events, and there is a simultaneous similarity as their future comes under threat. We observe the contrasts between a family of privilege and a family with little and the power dynamic in the relationship between the two. We see the yearnings for home, Cameroon, whilst trying to fit into a new home, the eternal immigrant heart caught between two worlds.

The novel perhaps underscores the naivete of the dreams of the immigrant given the harsh reality of the world. Mbue touches on the issues of race, culture, violence, pain, and the impact of male decisionmaking on women. The writing is beautiful at times although the characters and plot feel a little uneven on occasion. However, this takes nothing away from a novel that is a timely and pertinent story that carries an authentic picture of an immigrant experience. The characters of Jende and Nemi are complex and captured my interest easily. I loved the portrayal of their home country and their connections with it. A wonderful and insightful book that I recommend highly. Thanks to HarperCollins 4th Estate for an ARC.
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