behold the dreamers

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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

When Oprah announces a new book, I am always that person running out to buy and read it immediately and I am never disappointed. Behold the Dreamers is a moving novel about the American dream. It explores what home means to us and it really gives you a glimpse into the typical life of an immigrant.

Jende Jonge is a Cameroonian immigrant who has come to New York to make a better life for himself, his wife and their children. He believes everything is better and anything is possible for Americans.

He finds a job as a chauffeur. He quickly develops a relationship with the Clark Edwards, the businessman he drives around. “Theirs was a solid bond as could be between a man and his chauffeur. Their bond had been firmly established-they were two men bound by the relationship they had forged after cruising on highways and sitting in rush hour traffic.”

Jende and his wife Neni wake up every day and do everything they can so their children can have a good life and be somebody one day. Neni has always dreamed of America. To her, America was synonymous with happiness. “America might be flawed, but it was still a beautiful country. She could still become far more than she would have become in Limbe.” It is the land of boundless opportunities and a place where her children could have a bright and better future.

Then the financial world that Clark Edwards’ is a part of suddenly crashes and the country is in a horrible recession. Things quickly go downhill for the Jonges. Jende is out of a job, possibly facing deportation, having severe pain caused by stress and worried sick about providing for his family. Neni says of her husband, “He hadn’t been the same man since the day the letter for the deportation hearing arrived. He was now a man permanently at the edge of his breaking point. It was as if the letter of his court appointment had turned him from a happy living man to an outraged dying man intent on showing the world his anger at his impending death. For the first time in a long love affair, she was afraid he would beat her. And if he did, she would know that it was not her Jende who was beating her, but a grotesque being created by the sufferings of an American immigrant life.”

Jende, “They say this country will get better but I don’t know if I can stay here until that happens. I don’t know if I can continue suffering just because I want to live in America. “It’s just not easy, this life here in this world.” “It’s a long hard journey from struggling immigrant to successful American.”

The book also gives you a look inside the Edwards’ family. Clark’s wife, Cindy is a troubled and unhappy woman. Neni soon finds out that despite her image of being a self-assured woman, Cindy has a need for a sense of belonging, an utterly desperate need she could never seem to quench.

Cindy came from a very poor family and had an abusive mother. “I came away from all that. I worked my way through college, got a job, my own apartment, learned how to carry myself well and fit effortlessly in this new world so I would never be looked down on again, or seen as a piece of shit. Because I know what I am and no one can ever take away the things I’ve achieved for myself. I fight hard to keep my family together.” Cindy really starts to unravel, even with all the money and the life they have, Cindy is still truly unhappy. Her whole life beginning to seem more and more meaningless, she needed to do something now if she ever hoped to taste happiness again.

Will the Jorges make it in America or will they be forced to return to their home country? Will their marriage survive the hardships they endure? How much is too much to sacrifice to achieve the American Dream? Will the Edwards’ marriage survive? Will Cindy Edwards find a way to finally make peace with herself? Can a man can find a way to make a home anywhere?

I wish everyone would read this book so they could better understand the immigrant situation in our country. Mbue says of immigrants: “They return home because they can’t remain in our country to make better lives for themselves. America is a country that has forgotten how to welcome all kinds of strangers to our home. There are many out there who do not have a warm, peaceful country to return to. There are many for whom the only chance at ever having a home again is in America.” And in her novel, “Behold the dreamers,” we meet and fall in love with two such immigrants, Jende and Neni.

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what is left the daughter

51vuJXjTN+L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

I couldn’t wait to read one of Howard Norman’s books. I have heard so many great things about them and he has won several literary awards. At first you might think the book is a little dull or different, but keep reading because there is a lot of drama in the middle that will really get your attention.

My book club had a lively discussion about this book. A lot of sadness and death, but what else would you expect during wartime.  I really cared for the characters. I can’t really say much about it without giving it away, so I will just share the following blurb with you.

From Publishers Weekly: Set on the Atlantic coast of Canada during WWII, Norman’s latest is an expertly crafted tale of love during wartime. Wyatt Hillyer loses both his parents on the same day when they jump from different bridges in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after they discover they are both having affairs with the woman next door. Wyatt’s aunt and uncle take him in, and Wyatt becomes his uncle’s apprentice in his sled and toboggan business and, despite the circumstances, soon falls in love with his adopted cousin, Tilda. Yet he must resign himself to loving from a distance when Tilda brings home Hans Moehring, a German university student. The two begin a courtstip and Tilda’s father becones increasingly uneasy about this potential enemy in their midst. His plot explores the anxiety and weariness of life on the home front during war.

 

the shark club

19723966_10155193407113392_1709718675_oThe Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor is a lovely beach read, “set against the intoxicating backdrop of palm trees, blood orange sunsets, and key lime pies.” The book is about Maeve, her twin brother, Robin and their childhood friend, Daniel.

Maeve is a traveling marine scientist, often called the shark whisperer, who returns to the small island off Florida’s coast where she grow up in her grandmother’s hotel. She was bitten by a shark at the age of twelve and has been obsessed with sharks ever since.  She has just began a romance with her colleague Nicholas, who also shares her passion for the ocean and its creatures, but that relationship is threatened when she arrives home and discovers her past love, Daniel is also staying at the hotel.

As children, Maeve, Daniel, and Robin were very close. All three of them had lost parents. “They shared fatherlessness like a glue that connected them.” According to Maeve, her and her brother “had an empty place, but we’d tried to fill it in such different ways.  For me, it was with sharks and oceans, with Daniel and the dream of a family.  For Robin, it was writing. After Robin’s writing was rejected over and over and he walked away from it, he turned to other ways of filling the void- parties and drinking and a sort of aimlessness.”  Robin’s grief never seemed to heal. Making trouble was his way of expressing his grief.  When Maeve returns to her home, she discovers Robin has finally written a book, but she is shocked and hurt to discover the book is about her and Daniel.

Daniel and Maeve proclaimed their love to each other when they were just 12 years old. This love progressed into adulthood and when their wedding was abruptly called off Maeve was devastated and heartbroken. “I experienced his loss like an actual death. I went underwater in more ways than one.” He was a wound I carried that wouldn’t heal.”  She later tells Daniel, ““There is always a sadness in me. I don’t want it to be there, but it is.  It sleeps inside of me, and when it wakes there’s nothing I can do about it.  It takes over, and when that happens nothing else exists. You did that. For the last seven years, I’ve hated you for it.”

So we have a love triangle. Will Maeve finally have a second chance at love with Nicholas or can she finally forgive Daniel and have everything she ever wanted. But the book isn’t just a romance, there is also a mystery intertwined.  There is an illegal shark finning operation going on and sharks are being killed for their fins.  Maeve is very upset by it and involved in trying to find the culprits. ”I’d given my life to sharks and people were killing them faster than they could reproduce.” “The sea, its creatures, its sharks-they were my religion. I could die for that.”

I adored this book. The perfect beach read. Written very well. It hooks you right away.

 Interesting side note: the author’s mother is Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote the Secret Life of Bees.

A few more quotes:

“We all have to live with our mistakes.”

“I’d make a fortress of myself and it caved like one of the sand castles that dotted the beach.”

“Whatever makes you feel alive, you ought to pay attention to it. If it makes you happy, it’s worth following.”