I saw this reviewed so many times and on so many book blogger sites as well as best of year sites and even some awards. So it went on my Wish List for awhile but I didn’t get it and didn’t get it. Finally I took it off.
Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
2016 / (401 pp)
Read by Prentice Onayemi 12h 14m
Rating – 8.5 / contemp, immigrant lit
Then about a year ago the author, Imbolo Mbue, published her second novel, How Beautiful We Were and it too made the media lists, the reviews, awards and bloggers, another lit winner. Okay fine. But you know what? I felt I should read Behold the Dreamers first and … ta-da1… it was available reads at the library! (Well duh – 6 years!). Cool. And I’ll be getting to How Beautiful We Were shortly.
Behold the Dreamers is an immigrant novel – that’s a whole genre in its own, but with this novel it’s certainly apparent that the scenario has changed and that is a huge part of the point or theme. In the past our immigrant novels have been about rural pioneers or Chinese labor or about the Irish and Italians to the cities and more recently there have been the refugees from WWII and a few from Southeast Asia. After a while and a lot of work these characters usually do well in America (in the novels anyway), the land of opportunity.
It’s only been in the last 20 years or so the outlook has changed and now that’s coming across in the novels, too.
Because these days it’s very difficult for immigrants to carve a place for themselves in his land of opportunity. There are lots of immigrant laws as well as enforcement and the camps set up at the border are a source of distress for citizens, and ICE patrols ready to pick up “illegals.”
That’s what and who this very good book is about. The year is 2008, the year of the Wall Street crash, when times got tough for a few years and maybe, in some ways, changed permanently.
Jende and Neni Jonga along with their 6-year old son have just immigrated from Cameroon in Western Africa. He drives a cab while she works as a home health aid and enrolls in college working towards becoming a pharmacist. Life is hard but maybe do-able – the Jongas are dreamers.
Then the lucky break comes and with the help of an uncle he gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Wall Street investment banker and his family while he waits for his permanent papers from immigration. After a few weeks Jende manages to get Neni a job with them, too. And that’s when the troubles begin because what their application for a green card is rejected which opens Jende to unemployment and deportation and although she has a student visa, Nina is away and she can’t keep up with the work. Besides, the Edwards family they work for is not as happy as the Jongas thought they were. The wife, Cindy, especially has problems.
Money does not equate with happiness but so many people, citizens and immigrants, workers and bosses, friends and family, only give lip-service to that idea. They don’t operate on that basis. That’s the main theme of the whole book.