Monday, June 20, 2022

Review: Behold the Dreamers

From Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue:

Open quote He'd never had to worry about whether his experience would be appropriate, whether his English would be perfect, whether he would succeed in coming across as intelligent enough. But today, dressed in the green double-breasted pinstripe suit he’d worn the day he entered America, his ability to impress a man he’d never met was all he could think about. Try as he might, he could do nothing but think about the questions he might be asked, the answers he would need to give, the way he would have to walk and talk and sit, the times he would need to speak or listen and nod, the things he would have to say or not say, the response he would need to give if asked about his legal status in the country." Behold the Dreamers

Immigrant from Cameroon builds a life in the Bronx. Wall Street banker faces ruin in the 2008 collapse. Their lives intersect in a quintessentially American story. Straightforward, simple prose, most authentic in the Cameroonian household.

"Behold the Dreamers" is the 2022 selection for "Richardson Reads One Book".

Grade: B+

This is a straightforward story about Jende Jonga, an immigrant struggling to make it in America; his efforts to find a job to support his family; his battle with the bureaucracy to earn a residency and work permit. The novel is strongest when the family from Cameroon takes the stage. Imbolo Mbue is herself an immigrant from Cameroon. So her accounts of food, customs, and relationships with family and friends, here in America and back in Cameroon, all ring true.

At the same time, this is a story of Clark Edwards, a Wall Street banker whose job and life are upended by the housing market collapse of 2008. It costs him his job and puts his marriage in trouble. Mbue doesn't quite have the lived experiences to make this life as authentic as the Cameroonian immigrants' lives, but then Clark Edwards is in the story only as a counterpoint to Jende Jonga. Edwards offer a job to Jende Jonga to serve as his chauffeur. That gives Mbue plenty of space to have these two characters from different classes, from different worlds, interact with each other.

In the end, which character, which world, comes out on top? I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I think it's fair to say that each individual learns something from the other. Otherwise, this novel probably wouldn't have been chosen for "Richardson Reads One Book." Because the novel does throw those two worlds together, each fighting its own battles, with different stakes, the novel offers readers much to consider about the American Dream. Because of that, it's an excellent selection.

"Behold the Dreamers" is available in hard copy and Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library. :-)

Reviews of prior selections for "Richardson Reads One Book":

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