This month, I listened to Imbolo Mbue’s sensational debut novel Behold the Dreamers on Audible. The novel tells the story of Cameroonian immigrants Jende and Neni Jonga, who migrated to New York in 2008 to pursue a better life for their family.
Struggling in the busy city, Jende and Neni work relentlessly to provide for their family, yet struggle to make ends meet. Neni, who dreams of becoming a pharmacist, excels in college whilst simultaneously working as a care worker, and Jende drives a cab and washes dishes in a restaurant. Their luck changes after Jende is offered a job working as a personal chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, and his family. As Clark’s trust in Jende grows, he offers Neni a temporary summer job cleaning and cooking at the Edward’s summer home. Just as their lives start looking up, Jende and Neni soon learn that living in America is not as prosperous as they were led to believe. Despite living a wealthy and luxurious life, the Jonga’s learn that the Edward’s home is not as perfect as it seems. As Clark and Cindy’s marriage falls apart, lives are turned upside down, and cracks begin to develop in the Jonga’s home. Following a few heartbreaking revelations, the Jonga’s are forced to face the harsh reality of what life truly looks like as an immigrant.
Throughout the novel, Mbue expertly explores the themes of race, class and the realistic, tragic depiction the difficulties faced by immigrants chasing the quintessential American dream. The honest depiction of what life as a poor black immigrant, rejected or ignored in the wealthy white world, truly looks like in contemporary society is both a significant and necessary literary feat and highly relevant in today’s economic, social and political climate.
This honesty and integrity of this debut novel not only makes it a book worth reading, but a story that needed to be told.
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