Book Reviews

Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue (Book Review)

//I received this book from NetGalley. That does not affect my opinion of this book.

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Title : Behold the Dreamers

Author : Imbolo Mbue

Genre : Literary fiction, Cultural fiction, Adult contemporary

Release date : 23rd August, 2016


Summary

Goodreads summary :

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.


Non-spoilery Thoughts

This was such an articulately-written book. It has a wonderful coherency to it, an almost magical one, and the narrative proceeds in a fluency which is lovely. The book is abound with several important themes and issues, and raises questions in a dauntless, bold manner. Overall, Behold the Dreamers is a bold and true debut about a migrant family trying to sustain in America.

The book is about a couple from Limbe, Cameroon, and what is really interesting is that the author too is from Limbe, Cameroon. That just added on a touch of realness to the anyway brilliant narration, and I’m just so glad I had a chance to read something this diverse and mainly, learn so much from this book.

Firstly, if you’re looking for a diverse book, you should totally pick this book up. Not just cultural diversity, but even sexual diversity and economic differentiation is so well structured here, it amazed me. I really wanted to put up this review amidst the Diversathon, as my own little contribution (because I couldn’t participate) but unfortunately, I couldn’t do so. However, end point is, this is as diverse as it gets. It shows a whole bunch of diverse characters, and even beautifully portrays diversity in opinion and way of life.

If you are a plot-driven reader, this book probably isn’t for you then. It doesn’t have a well-defined plot, it’s more of a character study. It’s highly character-driven, and is based on a basic story (of the couple moving to America). But the rest of the book doesn’t have much of a plot (especially the inital 50%) and instead follows the lives and nature of the characters as they develop.

One of the many themes of this book is how much family matters, and how far are you ready to go for your family. Family is such an important thing, and we see it through the viewpoint of different classes of people in this book. For rich and for poor, it’s the same when it comes to love and family; no matter how much money you have (or don’t have) – the lengths to which we can go for the sake of family is astonishing and so truthfully portrayed in the book. We see the characters do wrong, flawed things, we see them make mistakes – all in the face of desperate times.

Another one of the themes I loved was how much home matters, and where you comes from will forever have a hold on your heart. It’s your home, after all. I love how the story comes full circle, and the ending is so, so satisfying even though it’s a bit heartbreaking too. Your roots, the place where you come from will always be there to welcome you back, and the value and beauty of homeland is so well portrayed in the book.

Another thing I loved about this book is how the characters are so perfectly and realistically portrayed. We see how good people often do bad things, and it just proves the point that a human being is such a ‘grey area’. None of us are completely good or completely bad, we’re all good and bad, and that was what I loved the most probably. How sometimes situations compel us to act in ways so out of character, and yet – does that make us bad?

The writing was different – it was written in a seemingly emotion-less manner which confused me for a while because the situation of the main characters does spark up a certain amount of sympathy. However, I soon realized that instead of drowning us in emotions, the author instead sets us free to feel things our own way and perceive everything independently. I feel that a lot of authors take on a very sentimental way of writing – deliberately making the writing emotional so that readers can sympathize with the book. However in this book, we have the freedom to think, to feel and to appreciate the book in our own way.

Final Thoughts

All in all, this book is a strong, daring novel and needs to be read. Recommended to : readers looking for diversity, readers interested in African cultural fiction and those who want to read an interesting adult contemporary novel.

My Rating

4/5 stars

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3 thoughts on “Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue (Book Review)

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