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.