Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett ( author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: This is the story of Jende Jonga and his wife Neni who come to New York from their home in Cameroon with a belief in the American Dream. Though still without a proper work permit, Jende manages to get a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, shortly before the company’s collapse. Neni is studying pharmacy, looking after their little son and occasionally working for Mrs Edwards. All is well for a while as the couple earn good wages and are well treated by their employers. Their hopes for their son’s future as an American citizen seem tantalisingly within reach. Once the collapse comes, however, things begin to fall apart.

Jende learns things about Mr Edwards that put him in an awkward position. At the same time, Neni discovers truths about Mrs Edwards that give her power over her. When Jende loses his job and is in danger of being deported back to Limbe, their home town, Neni must decide whether or not to use her knowledge. Tension arises between the couple as Jende is softer-hearted than his wife yet traditional in his belief in the husband’s dominance. Neni’s status as a student and her desire to become a pharmacist are also threatened by circumstances.

Behold the Dreamers is both funny and sad and the writing flows easily along. I was engaged in the story of this couple’s dreams for a better life and wanted them to succeed in what they set out to do. Yet all the time we are aware of the corruption at the heart of the American Dream and the ease with which it can come crashing down. Obama is in the future in this novel and holds out hope for improvement. Knowing what we now know, however, we can only bring a certain cynicism to our reading and wonder if perhaps the Jongas would not be happier in their own country than battling against an immigration system that cares nothing for personal aspirations.

I received a free ebook from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Small Island and other books by Andrea Levy.

Avoid if you dislike: Books with a heart.

Ideal accompaniments: Pepper chicken with plantain and joloff rice.

Genre: General Fiction

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