Book Review : Behold The Dreamers by Mbue Imbolo

Title: Behold The Dreamers
Author: Mbue Imbolo


“I am afraid ”
You think I am not afraid? But what has fear ever done for anyone?

There would have been no better time to breath in the air that Imbolo Mbue serves in her book than when conversation on immigration in America and the world at large has filled round tables.
She dramatizes a tale of two dreamers , Cameroonian immigrants, Jende Jonga and his wife Neni, living in a roach filled apartment in a Harlem neighborhood of fried chicken joints, storefront churches, and funeral homes. It is rather fascinating how she intertwines their story and fate to that of Mr Clark and Cindy Edwards a wealthy Wall Street couple, Lehman brothers executive, living in Manhattan with a panorama view of steel and concrete buildings. For a moment it almost looks like the princess and the Pauper but the twists as the book progresses are the kind that remind you to refrain from judging a matter before its time.

“If opportunity does not knock, build a door”
“Behold the dreamers” begins with jubilation, Jende and Neni are ecstatic about  his new job as a chauffeur for Mr Edwards’ family. The excitement seems to spring from the fact that this could be their big step towards the heavier side of the scale. For Neni this is a reassurance that she will achieve her dream of becoming a pharmacist for which she is studying chemistry at a community college. Jende on the other hand sees this as a sign that more good awaits, after all his lawyer had reassured him that it would not be long before his application for asylum is accepted and he can fully enjoy his life in this country of endless possibilities without worrying about retrenchment.

The book is so closely knit to illegal immigration and how survival forces people to live in deception and tell countless lies to keep themselves in their presumed paradise. Mbue points out the weaknesses in the American immigration system and it’s effects on the common man. I am amused though at how sarcastically she dissects this rather serious issue.
“Maybe one day, Obama, Hillary, if one of them wins president, they’ll give everyone papers. Who knows? Hillary likes immigrant people. And Obama, he must know some Kenyan people without papers that he’ll like to help.”

Donald Trump has set himself as a pillar in the fight against illegal immigration. It is almost impossible to miss his brief appearance in a conversation (which is a coded message I cracked) when Winston, Jende’s cousin takes Neni to a sushi restaurant to celebrate her joining an honour society.
“what you gonno do when she become pharmacist?”
“He will take us to a restaurant in the Trump Hotel,” Neni said, laughing, a spoonful of miso soup in one hand. “He will hire Donald Trump himself to cook steak for us.”

The thing about lies is that they force you to live all your life on the edge, the important question to ask therefore is “For how long?”
As anticipated, not even deception could hold things together when the waves of  Immigration troubles, Lehman Brothers’ collapse, and the recession descend of 2008 cut short the young dreams of these African go getters. The twist of the story from here is almost dramatic. At this time we see the Edwards and Jongas in a more personal than professional affair. The cheerful Cindy Edwards finally let’s down the blinds she had held over the world for all too long and reality seems to dawn on Clark.
At this point the Jende that was willing to do everything to remain in America is long dead. He becomes more passive, hopeless and irritable as Neni becomes witty and fierce.

Mbue Imbolo seems to want to let the reader in on the different facets of the American dream by painting the struggles of a family living the dream and one struggling to achieve the dream. The Edwards stray son Vince that forsakes law school in pursuit of truth and oneness in India against Neni that looks forward to joining pharmacy school to give her son, Liomi, a better life is just one of the many. The family tensions are realities that Neni is very quick to realise but unlike Jende she chooses to believe for better on the other side.

To a lesser extent the book dissects the issues of gender, you realize the disparities in priorities, social and economic status between the men and their wives.
Behold the dreamers is a daring book that is carefully written, you can feel Mbue’s empathy , sometimes pity, for her characters. Often you too are drawn to be sympathetic, other times the naivety expressed by the characters forces a dry laughter.
Generally it’s an irresistible and beautiful read with so many elements of our daily life that makes it very relatable. The tone keeps changing and somehow you never know when a loud ululation could become a cry for help
… Must read

Thank you for reading here… Have you read this book?  What stood out for you? Which books are you reading?

Bellows of Love
©Tales of a Curious mind


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