Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
Book: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue, 2016
Have you ever read a book that gets you thinking?
Is there a perfect family or society?
Why do the rich and poor struggle each day of their lives?
What keeps immigrants chasing the American dream, even when they have information and experience on how faraway it is?
What role do women play in the preservation of family and society in general?
The beauty of being a reader is the freedom to speculate, then read to establish how close or far your prediction was. My assumption before I read the book was that it focused on immigrants in the US, their dreams of a better life before they leave home, and the reality they encounter on arrival.
What kept me opening the pages?
The author captured my attention through the descriptive introduction and presentation of the main characters, settings, towns and cities mentioned in the book.
The descriptions enabled me to visualize a real Jende Jonga driving a taxi, later a chauffeur for members of Mr. Edwards family. To date I can see him walking down the street to Central Park or to the train station. I visualize Mr. and Mrs. Edwards on the back-seat of an expensive vehicle, each in deep thought as they ponder on the demands the capitalist world has gifted them. The author made it easy for me to imagine Neni and her friends in the many cities I have lived, both in countries of Africa and North America. I feel well equipped to take you on a tour of Limbe, Cameroon.
The author's use of language through word choice, sentence and paragraph pacing enabled brought the characters to life within their social-economic-cultural-gender positions in society. The author uses language to transport a reader in and out of Mr. Edwards’ corner office in Manhattan, into a one-bedroomed residence in a Harlem neighbourhood.
The author introduces brother and sisterhoods among immigrants as a survival strategy. We see the community gathering around their own in times of celebration (birth and marriage) and in times of challenges (death). The use of food to bring people together among the Cameroonian immigrant community, Mrs. Edwards and her friends, and more. Through food we learn of the close-knit relationship Neni and Jende, the formation of new relationships between Jende’s family and the Edwards’ boys.
The consumption of cultural foods helps remind the reader that though the characters are thousands of miles away from Cameroon, they have not changed much in terms of their preferred foods, costumes and value of family.
The use of suspense kept me awake on many nights, wanting to know what happens next, to each character and community. I kept on wondering if Jende would get his Green Card or not. If Neni would complete her study program in Pharmacy. I kept wondering if a time would come when their two children would have separate sleeping rooms from the parents? I still wonder how Jende’s family is doing.
Overall, I learned a lot about New York during the Great Recession, about the people of Limbe in Cameroon and in the USA, and on the daily triumphs and struggles of both rich and poor households.
I am still looking for a weakness of the book. Each society has its well-guarded secrets to shield itself from outside forces. The reason I keep asking, "Did Imbolo open too wide the lid on immigrant survival strategies?"
I recommend the book to anyone who has ever moved from the place called home, those planning to emigrate and those in immigrant receiving societies. It is a book for everyone who can read. I gave the book a five-star review because its edited, proofread and the story flows well with enough suspense that kept me reading late into the night.
Which book would you recommend I read next? I post a review each time I complete reading a book.
Until then, happy reading