A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy
New York Times Bestseller • Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award • Longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award • An ALA Notable Book
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
NPR • The New York Times Book Review • San Francisco Chronicle • The Guardian • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Chicago Public Library • BookPage • Refinery29 • Kirkus Reviews
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.
When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.
Praise for Behold the Dreamers
“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 . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller.”—The Washington Post
“A capacious, big-hearted novel.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Behold the Dreamers’ heart . . . belongs to the struggles and small triumphs of the Jongas, which Mbue traces in clean, quick-moving paragraphs.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Mbue’s writing is warm and captivating.”—People (book of the week)
“[Mbue’s] book isn’t the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, but it’s surely one of the best. . . . 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
“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.”—The Boston Globe
“A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Mbue [is] a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . [Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Behold the Dreamers is the powerful debut from Cameroon-born American writer Imbolo Mbue. Set before the 2008 financial crash, the novel provides a refreshingly sympathetic portrait of two marriages on either side of the widening American class divide. The Jongas—Jende and Neni—recently arrived from Cameroon, work for Lehman Brothers executive Clark Edwards and his wife, Cindy, who live among Manhattan’s one-percenters. Which marriage endures the recession? Mbue’s take will surprise you. Her vivid characters stuck with us far longer than it took to finish her deftly paced book.
From Cameroonian Mbue comes a debut novel about two immigrants struggling to find their footing in a new world. When Jende Jonga journeys to New York City from Cameroon in 2004 on a visitors' visa in hopes of obtaining a green card, he's sure his life will only improve. After saving up enough money to bring over Jende's wife, Neni, and six-year-old son, the family moves into an apartment in Harlem. Then Jende hits the jackpot in 2007 when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a wealthy Lehman Brothers executive. But working for the Edwardses isn't as cushy and above board as Jende expected. Clark's long hours at the office and frequent late-night "appointments" at the Chelsea Hotel raise red flags with his wife, Cindy. When Neni agrees to accompany the Edwards family to Southampton as a temporary nanny for their youngest son, she learns far more than she bargained for about Cindy's fragile mental state. Before long, the pressure of keeping what they know about Clark and Cindy and the threat of deportation becomes too much for the Jongas to bear, threatening the stability of their marriage and their ability to remain in a country they still can't call home. Mbue's reliance on overheard phone conversations to forward the plot makes for choppy reading, and the tenor of the Edwardses' rich-people problems is nothing new. But the Jongas are much more 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
It's an awesome book. I literally read this in two bursts. Story is quite gripping and almost insists That you try and understand the characters although it never really allows you to. Most importantly it's not a fairytale story with everything broken fixed at the end or with perfect heroes. I wish Mbolo well in her career as a writer and would be looking forward to her next book. NB: should be a 5 star, just docked one star for too many mentions of fried ripe plantain... Surely there must be other meals in Cameroon.
Behold the Dreamers
A lovely book with a very unexpected ending. It depicts real relationships, real human struggles in a way that makes the reader feel deeply connected to the characters and their issues. It didn't sugar-coat or falsely resolve the difficult issues surrounding immigration, domestic abuse, financial challenges, women's rights or addiction. And although it addresses all those issues, it does so through storytelling of real lives and real human dilemmas. I loved these people. A very satisfying read.
Disturbing View of US Immigrant Desperation
A compelling and at times excoriating narration of the US immigration dilemma: people desperate to leave their debilitating homeland poverty jump from the frying pan into the fire of dysfunctional ‘wannabe American’ lifestyle. In wanting to do whatever it takes to get their green cards and succeed in America, these Cameroon natives almost lose all self-respect, cow-towing to the ultra-rich whites of NYC...