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Behold the Dreamers
     

Behold the Dreamers

4.4 5
by Imbolo Mbue
 

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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

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award New York Times Notable

Overview

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

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award New York Times Notable Book • 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

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Carmela Ciuraru
As a dissection of the American dream, Imbolo Mbue's first novel is savage and compassionate in all the right places…Just as you think the author has served up a rather predictable set of characters (callous rich guy, pill-popping wife, virtuous immigrants), she slyly complicates them.
The New York Times Book Review - Cristina Henríquez
Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth, effortlessly inhabiting the minds of both Jende and his wife. Neni…is particularly appealing; she thrums on the page, full of complexity and yearning…her sense of her own transformation…struck me as a fresh take on the immigrant experience—providing not simply the jolt of being in a new place but also the jolt of taking on a new identity because of that place…As the story progresses, the plot, which is premised on a class divide, unfolds to reveal many more fissures crackling beneath the surface…There are a lot of spinning plates, and Mbue balances them skillfully, keeping everything in motion. Even more impressive is the vitality that gleams through the film of gloom as the story becomes less about what happens to the Jongas than about their efforts to make peace with their fate, whatever and wherever it might be…Behold the Dreamers is a capacious, big-hearted novel.
Publishers Weekly
06/13/2016
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. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“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

Library Journal
03/01/2016
Impeccably written, socially informed, in development by Sony Pictures, and an exemplar of the tremendous new writing emerging from Africa, Cameroon-born Mbue's big debut opens in 2007 New York. Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga is overjoyed when he lucks into a job as chauffeur for one-percenter Clark Edwards, and his wife, Neni, is subsequently hired as household help. Alas, troubles in the Edwards marriage edge into the lives of the Jongas. Then comes the economic crash of 2008—and Clark is a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Lots of library marketing.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-04-13
The American dream is put to the test by the economic disaster of 2007. Among the spate of novels forged in the crucible of the previous decade, Mbue's impressive debut deserves a singular place. This diversely peopled and crisply narrated story follows the trajectories of two Manhattan families, one at the top of the social heap and the other at the bottom. In the foreground is Jende Jonga, an immigrant from Cameroon, his wife, Neni, studying to be a pharmacist, and their young son. When Jende, who has been working as a dishwasher, scores a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a muckety-muck at Lehman Brothers with a troubled wife and similarly aged son, the fates of the Jongas and the Edwardses become entwined. Except for a nagging immigration problem being handled by a lousy lawyer, things go very well at first. Jende loves dressing up in a suit and driving a Lexus while Clark conducts endless cellphone conversations and laptop machinations in the back seat. Neni excels in school and becomes pregnant with a child who will be born a U.S. citizen. Then, during her summer hiatus in the Hamptons, Mrs. Edwards hires Neni to help with child care. One day she finds her employer disheveled and crashed out at midday; around this time, Clark starts having Jende take him for one-hour visits to the Chelsea Hotel. Cracks in the Edwards marriage are paralleled by trouble for the Jongas, too. Yet the magnitude of the catastrophe makes itself clear only slowly—particularly to immigrant eyes, dazzled by everything from shopping at Pathmark to the presidency of Obama to the freedom of Occupy protesters to demonstrate without being rounded up and thrown into prison. They will learn. Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812998481
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/23/2016
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
1,429
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon. She holds a BS from Rutgers University and an MA from Columbia University. A resident of the United States for more than a decade, she lives in New York City.

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Behold the Dreamers: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story so full of love and tragedy , beautifully written , hopefully more stories from this talented woman
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a reader I was taken to places they went in their daily lives and the highs and lows the dealt with. Excellent story. I did not want it to end.
Anonymous 6 days ago
Anonymous 18 days ago
Beautifully written. Characters fully realized. A Camaroonian couple who want to make a better life in America and a wealthy Wall Street couple who employ them. Their children and friends and relatives. Themes of love and family and aspirations and identity -- and struggles (to thrive or just survive, to provide for themselves & their children, to work through their marriages & their dreams). You become immersed in their ups and downs. Humor and joy mixed with sadness. Takes place just before & during the financial great recession. A must read novel.
rdgit More than 1 year ago
Behold the Dreamers An immigrant couple from Cameroon, Jende and Neni, establish a relationship with a wealthy man working for Lehman Brothers and his family. The plot drew my interest and I found it hard to put the book down because I genuinely liked the immigrant couple and I needed to know what the future held for them. Both of them seemed to be good family oriented, ambitious, hard working people wanting to make it in New York city. As the couple’s lives became more tied to the rich couple, I became more engrossed. But then, what happened midway through the book entirely changed my opinion. Without giving too much away, there was an incident that changed my thoughts of Jendi and Neni. They were no longer the couple I was pulling for earlier in the book and their values and morals were no longer desirable. I believe this change in character is a major flaw in the book. I don’t believe the author meant to tell the story of two questionable people and their escapades in New York city. I think she somehow didn’t see a conflict with this couple, as if what they did was perfectly fine. But it wasn’t. There doesn’t seem to be a good moral of the story, at least not one that I would be proud of.