Two weeks ago, I finally got myself a copy of the book Behold the Dreamers by the Cameroonian Imbolo Mbue.
I was so excited about it as I have been interested in African-American literature since Chimamanda Ngozie’s Americanah. I find myself relating more to African writers and philanthropists although I also very much love Wall Street novels or French literature.
In my most recent reads, in addition to this book, I read an article from Edgar Grande with title – European Identity: A Dangerous Obsession. I also read another article from Granovetta (1973) (quite old but only found it recently) about the Strength of Weak Ties. I will definitely recommend it those interested in the debate around current EU political crisis and analysis of social networks respectively (Find the links attached below).
Coming back to Behold the Dreamers!
I literally lack words. This was mind-blowing and before I start, I need to congratulate her on this book. This is the first time I read such from a Cameroonian writer. I’m so proud of it.
The book is about a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, Jende Jonga, who has come to the United States in search of a better life for himself, his wife, Neni and their six-year old son. Around fall of 2007, he luckily and unbelievably gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark makes high demands of his chauffeur including punctuality, discretion and loyalty. Clark’s wife, Cindy, later on offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. These opportunities make Jende and Neni gain a foothold in America and have hopes of a brighter future.
However, things do not go as they had wished. Jende and Neni soon discover cracks in their employers’ facades. Things worsen with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers alongside the financial crisis and Jende looses his job. The Jongas marriage threatens to fall apart and they are forced to make an impossible choice.
The novel perhaps highlights the naivety of the immigrant’s dreams given the harsh reality of the world. The author touches on the issues of race, culture, violence, pain, and the impact of male decision-making on women. The writing is beautiful and quite authentic picture of an immigrant experience. The characters of Jende and Neni are complex and captured my interest easily. I loved the portrayal of their home country Cameroon and their connections with it. I could relate with the slang and songs and areas mentioned in the book.
For the most part, the book was quite understandable. I loved the way I could depict the financial crisis through a non-academic angle. It really shows what is known in simple terms as ‘the gap between the rich and the poor’. At one end of the spectrum, we have the Jongas, Cameroonian immigrants desperately in search of a green card and on the other end, the Edwards family, wealthy upper-class New Yorker.
The story once more brought to my attention the fragility of the American Dream which saddened me a little.