Sunday, September 25, 2016

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

I was thrilled to win Behold the Dreamers on Goodreads Giveaways! After reading it, I am grateful to have won it. It is a beautifully written, deep, and thoughtful exploration of the oldest theme in American literature: The American Dream. What makes this treatment stand out is the jutaposition of the dreamers who hope to achieve the dream against the family who already lives the dream.

Jende and Neni have come to New York City hoping for a better life. Neni is a strong willed woman who defied her father to marry Jende. She is determined to get an education and a career. When Neni became pregnant her father had Jende imprisoned. In 2007, now together and living in Harlem, Neni is in school and Jende has landed a posh job as a chauffeur to a Lehman Brothers executive. They are full of hope for the future. All they need is to become permanent residents.

Jende's boss Clark and his wife Cindy are successful, rich, beautiful people, who have come up from the lower and middle classes. In truth Clark is a workaholic whose moral sense must be supressed as he conforms to the business ethics of Lehmans, while Cindy obsesses over fitting in, passing as one of the 1% to maintain her status.

As the two couples struggle with their personal demons, watching their dreams unravel, choices are made that will alter their lives forever.

I enjoyed this book on so many levels. Mbue is a wonderful story teller, her characters are vivid and unforgetable. The treatment of  the immigrant experience and American immigration law is relevent and revealing.

I loved how Jende and Neni were hard working idealists about America. The battle between Clark's Midwest values and the realities of Wall Street destroy him while his wife escapes into the oblivion of drugs and alcohol. Cindy and Clark's son Vince understands the spiritual death of American society, dropping out to find a life worth living. I loved the ending as Jende and Clark meet a final time, no longer boss and servant, but as men recognizing their mutual struggle to do what is best for their families.

It impressed me that Mbue, born in Cameroon and living in America for ten years, has a masterful writing style and a deep and intelligent insight into the psyche of both immigrant and American. This is her first book, and I can't wait to read more from Mbue.

I received a free book from Random House in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Random House
$28 hard cover

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