November 07, 2016

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue | Book Review

Behold the Dreamers is a story about a Cameroonian family living in the United States of America. Jende made it out of Cameroun on a visiting visa three years ago and was able to, over a period of time, arrange for his girl Neni and his son Liomi to join him in America. Two weeks after their arrival Jende marries Neni in a small ceremony in New York. Neni soon finds work under the table as a home health aide and also begins taking community college classes so that she can get the credits needed to get into pharmacy school. A year and a half later (the beginning of the novel), Jende gets a nicer, better paying job chauffeuring the wealthy Mr. Edwards and his family. The new job and much larger paycheck makes the Jonga's euphoric. Their sun seems to be rising and all their American dreams seem poised to come true. However, the issue of their immigration status looms over them like a dark cloud. On arrival to America Jende had hired a Nigerian lawyer to figure out a way for him and his family to stay in the country. The pathway to residency proposed by his lawyer is really shaky but they go along with it hoping for the best. Will the Jonga's soar high like a brightly colored hot air balloon or will all their hopes, dreams and aspirations explode mid-flight and fall to the ground like a confetti of burning debris?

Behold the Dreamers was previously titled The Longings of Jende Jonga and I loved the previous title so much that for some time I refused to refer to it as Behold the Dreamers. Anyway, publicity for this novel was in full swing last year way before its 2016 release and the anticipation was high among book readers. Imbolo Mbue was rumored to have received a seven figure advance for this book and so everyone wondered what tale Mbue could possibly have spun to receive such an enormous advance. Behold the Dreamers is a riveting immigrant tale that's relevant for the times we live in. I could relate to the sentiments expressed by Jende & Neni but especially those expressed by Neni. Of the two characters, one is terribly, shamefully weak and wants to give up on the fight while the other is open and willing to pursue all possible options to U.S. residency legal or illegal. I read page after page, completely consumed by Behold the Dreamers while outside my bedroom window morning turned to afternoon and then night. My heart grew heavier as I neared the end and I begged the stronger of the two to do something, anything. I wanted to cry for them. As a citizen of the United States who immigrated from Nigeria I could sympathize with their immigrant experience and I kept rooting for them to get a shot at their dreams. I read this novel in September right after I read the spectacular Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Both Homegoing & Behold the Dreamers were highly anticipated 2016 releases and by now you should already know that Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is required reading. Of the two stunning debuts it was Behold the Dreamers that I found hard to shake off after reading. I kept thinking about the Jonga's like I didn't have my own day to day problems. I woke up the morning after and thought about it while getting ready for work, while commuting to work and when I returned home that evening. It's a moving debut. You need to read this novel. BUY it. BORROW it. READ it.

READ: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi | Book Review

[Image via Amazon]

6 comments:

  1. Great review Osondu! I like how your reviews are personal. And it must have been very compelling for you to be thinking about it so much, after reading! Hmmm. I plan on reading this at some point next year. This review is definitely encouraging. After I saw a review/discussion of this book on LitHub, I was starting to second guess if i'd like it: http://lithub.com/has-imbolo-mbue-written-the-great-american-novel/. Lemme know what you think of the piece when you get time! But I ultimately must read the book for myself :)

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    1. Thank you so much Darkowaa! I really really appreciate that. You know I tried so hard to try and fit in the whole debate about stereotypes especially because you had mentioned it before but I couldn't fit it into my review. The thing is that yes this novel has stereotypes but I don't think those stereotypes made it any less captivating. The characters are very realistic and Mbue has done a great job. I can't wait to read your review of it once you get it done!

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    2. Hi Osondu, I hope we were neighbours so that you might lend me your books!! Captivating review indeed. I cannot wait to lay my hand on it!!! Thank you!

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    3. I know right LOL! We would just be swapping books up and down and save so much book money lol. I'm glad you enjoyed my review. I hope you love it as much as I do. Thanks for you kind comment! :)

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  3. Where can I buy this book in Nigeria

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