How to fit two continents onto a person
Title: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue, 2016
The beauty of being a reader is the freedom to speculate on what the book is about, then read to establish how close or far your prediction was.
My assumption was that the book focused on immigrants in the US, their dreams of a better life before they leave home, and the reality they encounter on arrival.
After reading the book, I realized that my guess was not too far from the main theme of the book.
What kept me opening the pages?
The author captured my attention through the descriptive introduction and presentation of the main characters, scenes, towns and cities mentioned in the book.
The descriptions have enabled me to visualize a real Jende Jonga driving a taxi, chauffeuring members of Mr. Edwards family, and later on walking down the street to Central Park or to the train station.
I picture Mr. and Mrs. Edwards on the back-seat of an expensive modern vehicle while in deep thought, fighting demands the capitalist world has gifted them. I envision Neni and her friends in the many cities I have lived. I feel well equipped to take you on a tour of Limbe, Cameroon.
Imbolo's use of language through word choice, sentence and paragraph pacing enabled me bring 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 brings to live existing brother and sisterhoods among immigrants as a survival strategy. We see the community gathering around their own in times of celebration (birth) and in times of trials (death).
Imbolo uses food to demonstrate the close-knit relationship between Neni and Jende, the formation of new relationships between Jende’s family and the Edwards’ boys, among the Cameroonian immigrant community, Mrs. Edwards and her friends, and more.
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.
Is there book two?
I still have many questions after turning the last page of Behold the Dreamers
- 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 far it is?
- What role do women play in the preservation of family and society in general?
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"?
Behold the Dreamers is my sixth read in 2018. I would 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.
Which book would you recommend I read next? I post a review on all the books I read, and I write a blog post on books by authors from Africa.
Until then, happy reading