The immigrant story has been the central theme to quite a lot of contemporary novels these past few years. The release of Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers may have first been perceived as another typical immigrant story to join all the others, but actually it’s much more.
I was sent a Net Galley uncorrected proof in exchange for an honest review, so I opted to listen to the audiobook while reading simultaneously. The experience was very interesting because I got to see what was edited and how the change of a few words can give a passage a totally different feel. The general story of Behold the Dreamers is a family from Cameroon united after some time. We the reader follow their ups and downs to remain in the United States and to hopefully obtain the proper paper work.
The story begins with Jende who is going through an interview with Clark Edwards to become his chauffeur. Happily, Jende gets the job and Behold the Dreamers evolves and explores the dynamic relationship between the Edwards, the rich American family and the Jongas, the Cameroonian immigrant family. Honestly, this juxtaposition between the two families is brilliant. Mbue tells this story while favoring none of the characters. What works the best in this novel is that the characters feel as if they could be real people. They aren’t all good or all bad. They are characters that have all the possibilities of making wrong and right decisions. Despite the wrong things these characters do, the reader will automatically find at least one of them sympathetic. You’ll even be able to understand why they do and why they do things, even when you won’t necessarily agree with them. That made this immigrant story an extremely refreshing and fair retelling.
From the beginning, the growing relationship between these two families seems promising. They add to each other’s lives while still remaining at a comfortable distance. Following their connections with each other is as fragile as the American economy. There is a constant nagging feeling of dread that haunts the reader. What will happen next?
The Edwards family have everything and from outward appearances things are perfect, and the Jongas are a struggling family trying to maneuver the difficulties from everyday day life, education, family issues, immigration bureaucracy, and money problems. The funny thing is that both families have similar problems and are both affected by the financial market crash. The question is which family will fall perfectly on their feet? Or will both? Or neither? Mbue uses the market crash of 2008 to show that it was an equalizer of sorts when it came to the damage that Americans and immigrants felt – losing their jobs, their homes, and even family.
Mbue’s writing is direct yet, you will be surprised by where it leads you. It’s amazing to read this debut novel from a young writer who has come into her gift without loads of practice. True passion and well written. I’ll link the video below where she talks about how Behold the Dreamers came about. It goes to show you that the simplest idea came become an interesting book. They just need to be developed. So, if you haven’t read this book I strongly encourage you to pick it up or even listen to the audiobook, which was brilliantly read. The accents were perfect and really added another dimension to the story as opposed to just reading the book, especially if you’re not familiar with Cameroonian accents.
Behold the Dreamer, 380 pages – Random House, March 2016
My Rating: 4 stars
Recommended to: Readers who enjoy immigrant stories.
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11 Replies to “Behold the Dreamers”
I’d love to read this – you make it sound great!
Also, it’s interesting what you say about the audio versus the uncorrected proof. I often wonder what will be changed (if anything) when I’m reading a proof, but never actually check it out.
I don’t like reading un corrected proofs, but listening to the audiobook why reading was definitely an eye-opener. Editing is work and no joke!
It certainly sounds like one I would like. I have a copy of the book, so I hope to read it sometime this year. A while back I read an article on the book — Has Imbolo Mbue Written the Great American Novel? — because the writer said that Mbue’s book was a bit racist. The article was interesting and it made me want to read Mbue’s book even more to see if I agree with him.
Here’s the article, if you’re interested in checking it out:
Moue’s novel is not racist. Is the great American novel? No, but it’s a very good one. I’ll have to go check this article out. Thanks for the info!
No prob. I get the impression that I’ll disagree with that writer too but I’ll need to read the book first to better see what made him think so.
Wow, Didi! I enjoyed reading your impressions but then the video of Imbolo Mbue in her first ever appearance before an audience “as a writer” makes me want to read this book in 2017.
I think you’ll enjoy it. She quite something else Ms. Mbue. I admire her writing journey to Behold the Dreamers. It’s inspirational to say the least.
Great review. Sounds like a good book. I am curious about the audio since you praise it so much
It’s great! Definitely go with that.
Great review! I read this book last year as well and really enjoyed it. But I never saw this video. It makes me love the book that much more!
Thanks Belinda! Hope more people pick it up this year and love it as much as we do.
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