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.
Mbue's debut novel weaves together the lives of two families living in N.Y.C. during the height of the Wall Street mortgage crisis in late 2008 and early 2009. Reader Onayemi powerfully renders the hopes and dreams of the Jongas immigrants from Cameroon and the private pain of the Edwardses wealthy New Yorkers caught up in the scandal at crumbling financial giant Lehman Brothers. He brings effective nuance to the wide cast of characters of both genders across a broad spectrum of ages, ethnicities, and life circumstances. His reading of Cindy Edwards, who turns to drugs and alcohol as her workaholic husband develops a habit of meeting high-end prostitutes at a Manhattan hotel, is especially haunting. Onayemi's talent for bringing the complexities of the dialogue to life in audio is on full display. A Random House hardcover.
A bold and moving migrant story, detailing the harrowing journey of navigating the grey uncertainty of the American Immigration System. Mbue has crafted an engaging story with compelling plot twists and characters worth caring deeply about.
Mbue expertly navigates between the class and culture collisions that we live with everyday, side-by-side. Issues such as the differences between a life of privilege and that of the working class hustle. Or the dynamic between the freedom to choose one’s own path versus having seemingly no agency at all. Mbue also calls out the melting pot that more accurately sifts people into orderly piles of familiarity, along with the connected and disconnectedness inherent in those separations.
There isn’t an African based novel that I have read that isn’t infused with local proverbs and the important theme of Pride. That theme has left me with one lesson above all which this book reinforces, Pride destroys dreams and lives. This book does a wonderful job of reminding us of this lesson.
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.
Captivating and moving
This novel was so moving it affected my own dreams, even as I dreamed during sleep.