Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

A Novel

Book - 2016
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A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream--the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST

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' fa#65533;ades.

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.

Praise for Behold the Dreamers

"A debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller." -- The Washington Post

"Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth. . . . There are a lot of spinning plates and Mbue balances them skillfully, keeping everything in motion. . . . A capacious, big-hearted novel." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Mbue's writing is warm and captivating." -- People (book of the week)

"[Mbue's] book isn't the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, but it's surely one of the best. . . . It's a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American." --NPR

"Imbolo Mbue's masterful debut about an immigrant family struggling to obtain the elusive American Dream in Harlem will have you feeling for each character from the moment you crack it open." -- In Style

"This story is one that needs to be told." -- Bust 

" Behold the Dreamers challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred." -- O: The Oprah Magazine

"[A] beautiful, empathetic novel . . . Mbue's narrative energy and sympathetic eye soon render . . . commonplace ingredients vivid, complex, and essential." -- The Boston Globe

"A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess." -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Mbue [is] a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . [Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts, plumbing the desires and disappointments of our emerging global culture." --Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A revelation . . . Mbue has written a clever morality tale that never preaches but instead teaches us the power of integrity." -- Essence
Publisher: New York : Random House, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780812998481
0812998480
9780525509714
0525509712
Branch Call Number: FIC MBUE 2016
Characteristics: 382 pages ; 25 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

An immigrant family from Cameroon tries to make its way in New York City on the eve of the Great Recession.

A lovely portrait of a Cameroonian immigrant family in New York City on the eve of the Great Recession. The New York Times called it a “big-hearted novel.”

"A lovely portrait of a Cameroonian immigrant family in NYC on the eve of the Great Recession" -- Hayden


From the critics


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m
mayog
Oct 29, 2018

Imbolo Mbue holds up a mirror to the American Dream and raises all sorts of questions about its worth, questions worth pondering through the eyes of these two families.

Set at the advent of the Obama era, Mbue's story of Cameroonian immigrants and their interaction with a rich white American family explores all of the seams behind the facade of life in America, particularly life in New York City.

At the end, the novel hopeful, but not for any of the reasons that one typically imagines. Instead, Mbue's novel invites the reader to shift focus and gaze from what contemporary culture considers "success," and to examine with a critical eye the fractured existences upon which that success can be built.

LPL_KateG Jun 22, 2018

My book club enjoyed this and had a great discussion about immigration, the American Dream, class differences in various places, and what it means to live a satisfying life. This novel was compelling and had characters who were complex and interesting. I would highly recommend this for a book club!

m
MyTake
May 23, 2018

I loved the pace, the plot twists, the references to another culture. It's impressive that this book is her first. I look forward to reading other books that she may write.

o
orange_lobster_23
Apr 07, 2018

The lives of Cameroonian immigrants aspiring U.S. citizens and Jende Jonga and his wife Nendi become intertwined with that of his Lehman executive employer and family in
this tense and heart-breaking story set in 2007 N.Y.C. A sad and compassionate look at the lives of struggling immigrants and a formerly comfortable family after the 2007 Lehman brothers collapse. A compelling read and winner of the 2016 PEN/Faulkner Award.

u
uncommonreader
Mar 29, 2018

This is not a badly written book, but it tells an ordinary story through a rose-tinted lens. A family of immigrants from Cameroon, believing in the American dream, are desperate to stay in the United States for its material benefits. The story is redeemed in the last few chapters.

ArapahoeJody Feb 22, 2018

A novel about two young immigrants from Africa who come to New York City. Through hard work they thrive and begin to raise their family. But overwhelming challenges with the immigration system send them back home to Africa.

s
swheeler89
Jan 31, 2018

Not sure if I would have found this without Oprah, so yeah, Oprah for President?... Seriously this was great. The story and characters were so real, you didn't know who to root for. You learn that family is more than money, and at time more than dreams. Do yourself a favor, read this, and then engage an immigrant to listen to their story as well.

c
Chapel_Hill_KatieJ
Jan 22, 2018

Jende and Neni are immigrants from Cameroon who live in Harlem. The book begins with Jende getting a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. Neni attends community college with the goal of becoming a pharmacist. The book is set during the 2008 Presidential Election, and right before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy that contributed to the Great Recession. As Jende’s immigration status becomes more and more tenuous, Neni decides she will do just about anything in order to raise her children in America. Neni is the strongest character, and her actions are the most interesting parts of the book. The Edwards family is less developed, and comes across as a caricature of rich people. Perhaps that was the point though, that this generic rich couple has no idea of how much their actions affect individuals like Jende and Neni, thousands of Lehman Brothers employees, and their own children.

s
suekrachko
Dec 04, 2017

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is an astonishing debut novel about immigration to America. The author's writes with clarity and suspense, keeping the reader riveted to the story. One of the three best books I've read in 2017.

m
mnack_0
Dec 02, 2017

Another great "first novel" with a surprise ending. Her story gives one much to think about and to discuss about the immigrant story (myth?) in America.

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ArapahoeMaryA Sep 27, 2017

Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi mystic. He’s the one who said, ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ Which was his own way of saying, ‘Let’s not dwell too much on labeling things as right or wrong.

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