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Behold the Dreamers (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel Hardcover – August 23, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of August 2016: One of the greatest things a novel can do is to raise empathy in a reader. Behold the Dreamers does that slowly and surely, as Mbue tells the story of Jende Jonga, his wife Neni, and their six-year-old son. Jende has arrived from Cameroon, and after a stint working as a dishwasher he lands a job as the driver for Clark Edwards, an executive who is reaping a fortune at the soon-to-be doomed Lehman Brothers. Jende is poor, living in Harlem, but with his new job he is able to move his wife and son to New York—he feels he is on the fast track to his American dream. Clark is rich, but has troubles of his own, and conversations in the car—private ones between Jende and members of the Edwards family, talks overheard on cell phones—begin to reveal these fissures. In this wonderful debut novel, we watch events unfold for both families in ways that suggest the American dream might be more fragile than advertised. Mbue is a master of presenting a scene and allowing the reader to see between the lines; the result is the thrill of feeling that, for one of those rare times, we might be able to accurately imagine what it’s like to be someone different from ourselves. --Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review
“As a dissection of the American Dream, Imbolo Mbue’s first novel is savage and compassionate in all the right places.”—The New York Times
“A fresh, engaging entry into the eternally evolving narrative of what it means to be an American—and how human beings, not laws or dogma, define liberty.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Even as Behold the Dreamers takes some dark, vicious turns, it never feels cheaply cynical, grounded as it is in the well-imagined characters who try, through whatever means possible, to protect their families and better their lives.”—USA Today
“In Imbolo Mbue’s sprightly debut . . . songs of innocence and arrogance collide.”—Vogue
“Imagine Lorraine Hansberry’s play/film A Raisin in the Sun with a Cameroonian cast of characters in early twenty-first century New York City, and you may come up with something close to Behold the Dreamers, a poignant and bittersweet debut.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Behold the Dreamers . . . just might be the most accessible novel I’ve ever read. . . . Mbue does an admirable job of developing characters whose lives seem so heartbreakingly real that the pages of this book often seem like something of a confinement. When you close the book, you will hear their pain. You might feel them calling for you.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“The Help meets House of Cards meets the read that’ll make you forget all about your morning commute.”—theSkimm
“Undocumented immigration, the widening gulf between rich and poor, and the thinly veiled racism of an avowedly ‘post-racial’ culture converge in this new generation of immigrants’ painful encounter with the American Dream. . . . The prose grows luminous.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Mbue’s outsider’s perceptions of American life—its stresses, its excesses—are sharp. . . . She’s also shrewd on the disruptions that come with the Jongas leaving their native land for a dream that may be a delusion.”—The Seattle Times
“An utterly unique novel about immigration, race, and class—and an important one, as well.”—BookPage
“A debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse.”—The Washington Post
“Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth. . . . There are a lot of spinning plates and Mbue balances them skillfully, keeping everything in motion. . . . Behold the Dreamers is a capacious, big-hearted novel.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Mbue’s writing is warm and captivating.”—People (book of the week)
“Mbue is a wonderful writer with an uncanny ear for dialogue—there are no false notes here, no narrative shortcuts, and certainly no manufactured happy endings. It’s a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American.”—NPR
“Mbue’s masterful debut about an immigrant family struggling to obtain the elusive American Dream in Harlem will have you feeling for each character from the moment you crack it open.”—In Style
“This story is one that needs to be told.”—Bust
“Behold the Dreamers challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“[A] beautiful, empathetic novel . . . Mbue’s narrative energy and sympathetic eye soon render . . . commonplace ingredients vivid, complex, and essential. . . . At once critical and hopeful, Behold the Dreamers traces the political and economic systems that push individuals toward dishonesty, while also acknowledging the bad and affirming the good in their complicated personal choices.”—The Boston Globe
“A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess. In her debut novel, Mbue has crafted a compelling view of twenty-first-century America.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Behold the Dreamers reveals Mbue as a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . [Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts, plumbing the desires and disappointments of our emerging global culture.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A revelation . . . Mbue has written a clever morality tale that never preaches but instead teaches us the power of integrity.”—Essence
“At once a sad indictment of the American dream and a gorgeous testament to the enduring bonds of family, Mbue’s powerful first novel will grip and move you right up to its heartfelt ending.”—Shelf Awareness
“Mbue proves herself a clear-eyed, unflinching storyteller, and Behold the Dreamers is a fearless, head-on journey into the thorny contemporary issues of American exceptionalism.”—Interview Magazine
“Gripping and beautifully told.”—Good Housekeeping
“At once an ode to New York City and an elegy for the American Dream, Behold the Dreamers reads like a film, shuttling effortlessly between a Cameroonian chauffeur’s Harlem and an investment banker’s Upper East Side. . . . There are no heroes in this marvelous debut, only nuanced human beings. A classic tale with a surprise ending, as deeply insightful as it is entertaining.”—Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go
“Mbue’s fantastic debut is much more than an immigrant story, a tale of the 2007 financial collapse, or the intersections of the rich and poor in New York—it’s about how the American Dream can fail anyone, and whether hope can survive. An empathetic, timely, and deeply welcome novel.”—J. Ryan Stradal, author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest
“Eminently readable, deeply empathetic, and often humorous, Behold the Dreamers offers the stark reality of the American Dream as we rarely see it in fiction. In its pages, Americans are made, fortunes are won and lost, and America’s flawed dream-makers and its striving dreamers clash and come alive. With forthright prose and unforgettable characters, Behold the Dreamers is a subversive delight.”—Shawna Yang Ryan, author of Green Island
“Imbolo Mbue would be a formidable storyteller anywhere, in any language. It’s our good luck that she and her stories are American.”—Jonathan Franzen, National Book Award–winning author of Purity and Freedom
“Dazzling, fast-paced, and exquisitely written, Behold the Dreamers is one of those rare novels that will change the way you see the world. Imbolo Mbue is a breathtaking talent.”—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train
“Who is this Imbolo Mbue and where has she been hiding? Her writing is startlingly beautiful, thoughtful, and both timely and timeless. She’s taking on everything from family to the Great Recession to immigration while deftly reminding us what it means to truly believe in ‘the American Dream.’”—Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award–winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn
“It’s rare that a book is so fascinating, so emotionally compelling, and so beautiful that I literally can’t put it down. I picked Behold the Dreamers up one evening before bed. I turned the last page at dawn. It ruined the next day for me—I wasn’t much good for anything but a nap—but it was worth every lost hour.”—Ayelet Waldman, New York Times bestselling author of Love and Treasure
“A beautiful book about one African couple starting a new life in a new land, Behold the Dreamers will teach you as much about the promise and pitfalls of life in the United States as about the immigrants who come here in search of the so-called American dream.”—Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique’s Journey and winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“Among the spate of novels forged in the crucible of the previous decade, Mbue’s impressive debut deserves a singular place. . . . Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A fast-paced, engaging read with an interesting cross-cultural background.”—Library Journal
“The Jongas are . . . vivid, and the book’s unexpected ending—and its sharp-eyed focus on issues of immigration, race, and class—speak to a sad truth in today’s cutthroat world: the American dream isn’t what it seems.”—Publishers Weekly
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Top customer reviews
I found the contrast between the main characters' response to the idea of returning to Cameroon interesting--probably pretty typical.
The writing itself lacked creativity and power.
This story is told primarily from the point of view of an African couple from Cameroon who have come to New York just prior to the stock market crash in 2007. The couple is Jende and Neni Jonga. They were unable to marry in Cameroon because Neni's father didn't find Jende of high enough status to marry his daughter. Nene previously had a daughter with Jende who had died shortly after her birth but now also has a young son named Liomi who leaves with her for New York.
Neni had arrived earlier to the US with Liomi and when Jende joins them in their home in Harlem, they are able to marry and he is able to find work as a chauffeur for a wealthy executive named Clark Edwards at Lehman Brothers. They both seem to be living the Great American Dream.
Nene has her heart set on becoming a pharmacist and she does exceptionally well at school. She also works for Clark's wife Cindy - a spoiled yet unhappy woman with a part-time home in the Hamptons. Neni loves the US and all its potential - she never wants to leave despite any hardships.
Over the course of the book, we go through the troubles and tribulations of Jende as he not only faces deportation, but also loses his job as Lehman Brothers dissolves.
On the good side, this book does a good job putting us in the shoes of an immigrant desperately fighting to gain residency status in the United States and the obstacles he or she must face. Your heart really goes out to Jende and Neni both and you will definitely find yourself rooting for them.
In critique, other than Neni, and at times Jende, the characters never truly came alive for me. I thought the white characters were all very stereotypical and in particular, the mother Cindy seemed so one-dimensional. Clark was not much better.
The conversations between the characters - especially those between Clark and Jende - felt so stilted and at time really more to give the reader an understanding of what was happening in the world (stock-market in particular) at the time rather than an organic discussion between two people. These conversations between most of the characters served more explain what was going on and to move the action forward more than anything else.
There really is a great story here, but the writing often felt a bit amateurish and not all that sophisticated.
Recommended for book club discussions. There is definitely a political message here (not subtle at all in this book) so be aware of that.)