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Reviews of Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers

by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue X
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Oprah Winfrey's Summer 2017 Book Club Pick

In the vein of Amy Tan and Khaled Hosseini comes 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.

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.

Behold the Dreamers

One

He'd never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview. Never been told to bring along a copy of his résumé. He hadn't even owned a résumé until the previous week when he'd gone to the library on Thirty--fourth and Madison and a volunteer career counselor had written one for him, detailed his work history to suggest he was a man of grand accomplishments: farmer responsible for tilling land and growing healthy crops; street cleaner responsible for making sure the town of Limbe looked beautiful and pristine; dishwasher in Manhattan restaurant, in charge of ensuring patrons ate from clean and germ--free plates; livery cabdriver in the Bronx, responsible for taking passengers safely from place to place.

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 ...

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  • award image

    PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
    2017

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Mbue's main talent is her ability to bring her characters to life. I absolutely fell in love with Jende and his wife; the optimism with which the author infuses these characters is infectious. Although all the characters are well-drawn, they initially fit too neatly into their roles. It's only close to the end, as events start spiraling out of control, that the plot becomes more realistic, leading to a much stronger book...continued

Full Review (703 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.

Library Journal
A fast-paced, engaging read with an interesting cross-cultural background.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Author Blurb Ayelet Waldman, New York Times bestselling author of Love and Treasure
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.

Author Blurb Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train
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.

Author Blurb Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award–winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming
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.'

Author Blurb Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique's Journey and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
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.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

This Remarkable Book Pierced My Heart and Soul
The time: 2008 The place: New York City. Well, to be exact a corner office on Wall Street with floor to ceiling windows offering a breathtaking view, a posh Upper East Side apartment that is decorated to the nines and a one-bedroom, cockroach-...   Read More
Barbara

a book of our times
It is interesting, with all that is happening in America, to read a book that portrays a story of a hardworking immigrant family in comparison to an wealthy American family. Both families face serious problems and how they handle them is telling......   Read More
Sandy

One-half of a good book. A Solid 3
Loved the depictions of Cameroon culture, the women, the parties, the clothes and the deep community...on the other hand, as one-half of an executive couple with a child, working and traveling non-stop during the '80s and '90s, the idea that Jende ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Lehman Brothers

Clark Edwards, one of the main characters in Behold the Dreamers, works as an executive for Lehman Brothers.

Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. was the fourth-largest investment bank in the United States at the time of the housing market crash (2007-2009), employing over 25,000 employees worldwide.

Emanuel and Mayer Lehman The company began in 1844 as a small dry-goods store in Montgomery, Alabama, owned and operated by 23-year-old Henry Lehman, an immigrant from Rimpar, Bavaria. His brother Emanuel joined the business in 1847, followed by another brother – Mayer – in 1850, and in that year the store, originally named just H. Lehman, was rechristened Lehman Brothers. During the 1850s the brothers began bartering their inventory for locally ...

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Read-Alikes

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