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

 

 

 

 

Fever

Saturday I met with my book club to discuss, Fever by Mary Beth Keane.  Fever takes the reader to the turn of the Fevertwentieth century in New York.  There we follow the life of Mary Mallon, alias Typhoid Mary.  She was a carrier of typhoid although she was never sick with it.  It was believed that she transmitted typhoid to victims through her cooking.

Now when I first read what this book was about I was immediately sold on reading it.  I had heard of Typhoid Mary but I couldn’t remember if it was at school or somewhere else.  So, I figured I’d learn more about Mary Mallon and more about typhoid.  Needless to say, I got a two-dimensional Mary Mallon and a highly developed story about immigrant life in New York.  If anything, the later was the best and only true historical part of the book in my opinion.  The descriptions of what immigrants were living at that time were vivid, informative, and contained some historical events. The first half of the book is a repetition of how Mary doesn’t accept what’s she’s been told about how she transmits typhoid.  Other than that nothing happens.  Most of what is written in the book about Mary’s character and the people she meets isn’t true and that’s where I can’t see how the book is marketed as a historical fiction.  The reader doesn’t even get any scientific explanations about typhoid or details on the doctor’s research either.  Among all of this the character of Mary Mallon is not really dealt with.  Her character is brash and unlikable, coupled with the story being told in third person throughout ninety percent of book, which doesn’t help the reader to be the least bit sympathetic to her cause.

Allegedly, there is no concrete information on Mary Mallon, except one letter which was written to her lawyer.  Despite this the author couldn’t seem to develop Mary Mallon’s character other than in repetition and in situations that were highly unbelievable for the time.  As a matter of fact, not much of what the author tried to get us to believe about Mary had been written well enough for us to really believe her.  Keane had over developed the story and left Mary Mallon as a blank cardboard cut out.  The two just didn’t link correctly.  Thank goodness it was a fast enough read and the style engaging enough, despite repetition of the word shit and grand.  This is a clear case of an author using  a real person to centralize and market her story but in fact the story isn’t really about Mary Mallon.  Undoubtedly, the best part of the book is the second half.  It comes together a lot better than the first half, however I’ve only given Fever two stars over on Goodreads because it doesn’t correspond to what is expected of it.

Mary Beth Keane was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award with her first novel, The Walking People.   Fever, was Mary_Beth_Keanebest book of 2013 by NPR Books, Library Journal, and The San Francisco Chronicle.  Keane was chosen as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Program in 2011.  “The 5 Under 35 program honors five young fiction writers selected by past National Book Award Winners and Finalists, or previous 5 Under 35 Honorees.  The program has introduced the next generation of writers, including Téa Obreht, Karen Russell, and Justin Torres.” (nationalbook.org)

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

Americanah

Chimamanda! Chimamanda! Did I say Chimamanda! Ah Americanah swept me off my feet and has had meIMG_0117 deep in reflection for the past 3 weeks.  That hasn’t happened to me in quite some time after finishing a book.  I found myself rereading passages after I’d finished it. I couldn’t get enough.

Americanah is Adichie’s third successful novel.  It’s the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are Nigerian and they meet and fall in love instantly at school.  It’s the story of their love, their growth, and their immigration stories.  The central character of the novel is Ifemelu who is young opinionated and intelligent.  We follow her from Nigeria where she leaves the love of her life, Obinze,  and her parents to immigrate to America and live with her Aunt Uju and cousin Dike.  There the ups and downs and harsh reality of life in America, for immigrants, shape the story as well as Ifemelu’s character.  She develops with each new situation and new character she meets.  She slowly shapes into a woman with each relationship she has.  For with each boyfriend comes new lessons to learn.  It was wonderful to watch her grow and make mistakes.

Readers may feel that Ifemelu and Obinze’s love story is non-existent, however their love story is non-conventional but oh so passionate and runs deep.  Adichie constructs the novel to contain themes that are pertinent and that have not as yet been dealt with in such an outright way.  Race, immigration, natural hair, and blogging are the central themes that drive the story.  You’re probably thinking race and that you know what she’s going to say. Wrong! You don’t and frankly you’ll be a little surprised at times, happily surprised and maybe a little uncomfortable.  Adichie deals thoroughly with all the different sides to race.  You get the points of view of the Africans, the African immigrants (Americanahs), the African-Americans, the white Americans, and other races.  Some may not appreciate her African-American view and feel as if she’s slighting us but I had to admit that I know African-Americans that I’ve heard saying a lot of the things she writes in the book.  Adichie’s views may at times come off as semi-rants but the context in which she writes them are fitting.

The novel was written in third person, which is lively and amiable, just like a good friend accompanying you throughout the 477 pages.  At times the third person was Ifemelu speaking and Obinze but most of the time I felt it was Adichie expressing her personnel opinions.  All in all, I loved that because those passages were filled with the most stimulating and thought-provoking lines.  To aid in telling this story Adichie uses blog entries which Ifemelu writes while in the United States to talk about race.  Through these strategically placed blog entries Adichie examines all the uncomfortable angles around the subject of race.  At times they made me laugh aloud, smile, or just say a subtle yes.  I hadn’t thought so much about race from an African’s point of view, much less an African’s view of race in the United States.

Immigration was the next ubiquitous theme.  The heart-rendering immigration stories of Ifemelu in the United States and Obinze in England paralleling each other depicted the difficulties they were going through, while showing their growth as people – lack of money, being homesick, looking for jobs, being illegal, dealing with unsavoury characters, and constantly searching and not finding.  It was funny that through all the difficulty of immigration they both had, they always  seemed to turn to reading or books for comfort, which I found astounding.  The books mentioned in Americanah are A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance – Barack Obama.  Each book mentioned has ideas relevant to the scenes where they are mentioned in Americanah.  Adichie is trying to reinforce her ideas through the recurring accepted ideas of an old British classic, a story about an Indian living in Central Africa, a highly respected classical African work, and a novel written by an African-American president who had an African father.  I love the way The Heart of a Matter is mentioned in the beginning by Obinze’s mother and how things come full circle at the end when Ifemelu says how much she likes The Heart of a Matter and how much the story means to her.

Amongst these two real subjects, natural hair is wedged in throughout the story here and there.  The novel opens with Ifemelu in a salon getting her hair braided.  This was a symbol of many things – African-American women being a slave to their hair and trying to tame it at all costs to fit into American society, the workplace, etc., It’s also a place where one is meant to open up and exchange stories about themselves and often be judged, and a place which has a lot of cultural value in the African-American community for getting women together and getting men together.   The hair salon is like a meeting of cultural similarities for Africans and African-Americans.  We see Ifemelu struggle with accepting her hair when she is forced to stop relaxing it because her hair is falling out.  So she has her hair cut to a short afro.  She doesn’t accept her short kinky hair at all so she calls in sick two days because she’s apprehensive about the way she will be perceived.  As the story went on, it seemed as if Ifememlu got more radical as her her afro grew.  Is natural hair political? Is it just hair?  Those are two questions that are debated incessantly these days as the the natural hair movement spreads in the African-American community.  Acceptance of one’s appearance, actions, and ideas is one of the first steps to accepting and knowing one’s self.  This Ifemelu and Obinze both learned the long and hard way.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977.  She has a successful list of works starting with Purple Hibiscus which was her first novel written in 2003 and followed by Half of a Yellow Sun in 2006, which is set during the Biafran War.  The Thing Around Your Neck was a short story collection written in 2009. “My writing comes from melancholy, from rage, from curiosity, from hope.” (quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  during a lecture at Princeton University, 20 October 2010 – The Writer as Two Selves:  Reflections on the Private Act of Writing and the Public Act of Citizenship)  That is very clear in her writing.  That’s what makes it sincere and palpable.  I urge you all to give Americanah a try and to check out the video below of Adichie speaking about the dangers of the single story on TEDTalks. Brilliant!