Behold the Dreamers

snapseedThe 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.

Audiobook:  Excellent

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

 

 

 

 

Here Comes the Sun

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel explores living on the island of Jamaica.  Masquerading img_3150behind a jovial gay cover in bright orange, yellow, and green, Here Comes the Sun, starts gently and insidiously goes places we aren’t prepared for.  The novel revolves around three unlikable main characters – Delores, Margot, and Thandi, who form an unforgettable trio.  Delores is a mother preoccupied with money and not enough to the real well-being of her daughters.  Margot her oldest daughter is motivated to work in the hotel and she gets to the point of selling her body to hotel guests to earn enough money to pay for Thandi’s education and the family’s house expenses.  Thandi, Delores’ youngest daughter, is 15 years younger than Margot.  She’s brilliant in school and is searching to be loved and accepted.  All the family’s desires of escaping poverty in River Bank are tied up in the hopes of Thandi succeeding at school and eventually going to medical school to become a doctor.

The setting of this novel is River Bank a quiet little village situated near a resort hotel, where cruise ships make frequent stops with nonchalant tourists.  Life in poverty on an island can make people do things they would have never thought of doing to survive.  The way Dennis-Benn uses light and darkness to convey the moods of the characters and to set a scene is masterly.  Told with luscious language and poignant analogies, she accurately paints the picture of the horrific situations facing Jamaicans in little sleepy towns near luxurious high-rise resorts.  As I was reading this novel, it made me think of A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid and the rage that ran through the novel.

“The darkness claims her, encircles her with black walls that eventually open up into a path for her to walk through.  She takes a few steps, aware of the one foot in front of the other; of the strangeness creeping up her spine, wrapping itself around her belly, shooting up into her chest, The scent of the bougainvilleas that line the fence is like a sweet embrace. The darkness becomes a friendly accomplice. Yet, the familiar apprehension ambushes her: Can she be seen?  She looks over her shoulder  and contemplates the distance it would take for her to walk to her house from here.  A good mile.  She stands in front of the bright pink house that emerges from the shadows.  It seems to gloss in the dark….”(Here Comes the Sun, pp. 15-16)

Here Comes the Sun is a novel that mixes a good plot with excellent character development. It’s obvious that Dennis-Benn set out to depict a story showing the sociological implications of the difficulties people on the island face, while balancing the plot with pertinent themes such as homosexuality, mother/daughter relationships, colorism, sexism, class, race, missing fathers and of course the long-lasting effects of colonialism on the thoughts and behavior of the island people.  You’re probably thinking that this sounds like a lot to put in a 345 page book, but it’s brilliantly balanced, paced, and speaks clearly to the reader.

Having four generations living under the same roof was Dennis-Benn’s way of having the reader follow and understand the difficulties of each character.  Dolores is a horrible mother but her discourse is obviously that of the after effects of colonialism.  Money is the only thing that she believes will get them out of where they are.  She would subscribe to the expression – You gotta do what you gotta do.  Delores’ voice and a few of the other secondary characters like Charles, Miss Ruby, and Maxi are always in Jamaican dialect which roots the reader into the tradition of life in River Bank.  The dialect isn’t hard to understand.  Saying the lines out loud can help you understand the meaning better if you struggle with reading dialect.  Margot hiding her homosexuality, her deep hatred for her mother, and her desire to earn enough money to leave River Bank and set up elsewhere drive her throughout the story and the lengths she goes to make this happen are mind-blowing.  Thandi who has the weight on her shoulders to succeed in school to save her family from poverty and at the same time doesn’t feel accepted in her school;  has seemed to take in all the derogatory things she hears about dark skin.  “Tsk, tsk. Well, God played a cruel joke on you.  Because, chile, if yuh skin was as pretty as yuh hair, you’d be one gorgeous woman.” (Here Comes the Sun, p. 25)  Sadly, she is so sure that she’ll be accepted if her skin is lighter.

You’ll be glued from the moment you begin to read this story, anxious to find out what’s going to happen next, shocked as you’re pulled through all the twists and turns.  All the secondary characters are just as memorable as Delores, Margot, and Thandi.  The only real problem I had with Here Comes the Sun was the ending, to be exact the last chapter.  I was really disappointed to not get the closure I was hoping for once the novel was finished.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters.  Chapter 40 left me dissatisfied.  I really enjoyed all the other parts of the novel and felt they were perfect.  Unfortunately, the outcomes of the characters are left hanging and inferred.  It felt like she had no idea how to finish this book or maybe she was reluctant to end the book with all the loose ends perfectly tied up.  Could she have felt that ending the book this way shows that life goes on, as if we the readers were just witnesses to a part of these characters’ lives?  I’m wondering if maybe she plans on using these characters for another book.  That would make a great second book. 😉  So, have you read this one and if not are you interested in trying it?

My copy:   Here Comes the Sun, 345 pages

Rating: ****

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

 

Hausfrau

Intense. Surprisingly addictive. Mounting intrigue. Anna is an American who has to all intent and purposes met and fallen in love with a Swiss called Bruno. He is tall good-looking, unwavering, and candid in his opinions. She has lived in Switzerland for 9 years and still doesn’t speak German fluently. Her life is evolving as if on autopilot. Switzerland and its people don’t seem to want to let her in or is it that she doesn’t want to fit in. After living 9 years in Germany the reader could probably assume that Anna doesn’t want to fit in (that’s what I assumed) and that she is just simply an unreliable narrator. However, I’d say that is not exactly the case.

hausfrauAnna is often very honest about her feelings to the reader and about the various events she goes through. She is also very clever with her scrutiny and descriptions of the different characters she has relationships with. The third person voice acts like a journal, where we hear her every thought – her fears, her loneliness, her desires.  Hausfrau has a similar voice that seems to be common at the moment in a few popular contemporary novels – female voice that’s raw and direct i.e. Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, etc. Fortunately, Anna’s voice is not annoying but realistic. Actually at some point, I felt sorry for her (didn’t last long) even though most of her problems stem from her incapacity to make proper choices and to evolve to something better.

Hausfrau’s structure is what gives it an originality that makes it interesting.  It explores more than just a  discontented housewife who’s trapped by home chores and such.   That’s because oddly enough most of the time we follow Anna when she’s outside of the house. The juxtaposition of German language grammar and pertinent statements and questions from her psychoanalyst, between reading about Anna’s dalliances, disclose thought-provoking reasons why Anna has difficulty adapting to life in Switzerland. In no way are all of those questions answered but there is a brilliant case made for how important some life decisions are and how they can affect us for the rest of our lives. The onset of Hausfrau felt like a typical unhappy housewife story, but in spite of that beginning it gradually won me over with its structure. It’s like reading about a train wreck ready to happen, but it’s a quick read and full of lots of twists and turns that will keep you entertained. The weaknesses of Hausfrau – the predictable ending and I would have liked to see Anna evolve into a stronger woman as the story unfolded, but she seems to remain unchanging in character, no development. She didn’t even seem desperate towards the end. It seems this type of contemporary novel featuring weak women is becoming regrettably trendy. Even though, it’s definitely a good read and looking forward to Essbaum’s future novels and I may even try to pick one of her other poetry collections.

Have you guys read Hausfrau? If so what did you think?

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 10

Day 10 – a Black Book:

A black book is like saying the little black dress.  It’s a book that makes an impressive impact visually and IMG_1394for the content between its covers.  I chose Trumpet by Jackie Kay.  I haven’t read this one yet but I’m very familiar with Kay’s beautiful poetry and Red Dust Road and am sure it’s very good.  I have to thank Claire over at Word by Word for introducing her to me and Kesha from ke-sha Forsaken for gifting it to me.  I immediately thought of Trumpet for today’s challenge.  It’s a perfect fit.

“In the 1950s and 60s, Scottish jazz musician Joss Moody was celebrated for his sound:  everyone who heard it imagined they knew the man behind it.  But with the remarkable fact uncovered upon his death, it becomes clear that no one but his wife, Millie, knew him at all. A tapestry of brilliantly realized voices from Joss’s world reveals the startling and poignant story of Joss and Millie: how they built a love, a family, a life out of a complex, dazzling lie.” (back cover of Trumpet Pantheon edition)

What’s your black book of the day?

 

 

#ReadSouLit Photo Challenge – Day 9

Day 9 – Beautiful Edition:  

Well if you have followed you know how important today’s theme is to me.  Beautiful Edition!  Now I IMG_1389had a few ideas for this one but I decided to choose one of the books that I’m reading at the moment and that’s Jacinda Townsend’s Saint Monkey.  Couldn’t resist, it’s so beautiful.  It’s colorful, vibrant, attractive and the artwork is sensitive to the book’s subject.  I don’t know the name of the artist who painted the picture on the cover (wish I did), but the designer of the cover is Jaya Miceli, who has designed plenty of other beautiful covers.  I’m enjoying this novel so far and will be back with an in-depth review.  I’m currently on p. 50.  Name your beautiful edition(s).