Book Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

I had heard a lot about Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue many times before deciding to read it. This was due to Mbue signing a million dollar deal with publishing giants, Random House and Behold the Dreamers being selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club.

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So, I picked it up and I was glad I did. It made me think a lot about the issues the main characters faced. Behold the Dreamers is about a couple, the Jongas who move to America in the hope of a better life. The husband, Jende moves first and his wife and son join him later. This is a familiar story where one family member goes first to prepare things and earn enough money to send for the rest of the family.

Jende gets a job working as a chauffeur for the Edwards, a wealthy white family. Clark Edwards is a Wall Street banker at Lehman Brothers. Jende’s income improves dramatically when he begins to work for the Edwards. However, Jende starts work with the Edwards close to the time when the recession hits in 2008. I wondered if Jende was going to lose his job because the Edwards may no longer be able to pay him. It made me think of how our incomes can be tied to someone else’s wealth and if anything was to happen to them, what would happen.

The Jongas had immigration issues and were struggling to remain in America. His wife, Neni would share these problems with her pastor and her friends. There were times when I felt she was sharing her personal problems with a pastor that she barely knew. A pastor is not a doctor that keeps matters confidential. I kept wondering if her sharing these things wouldn’t lead to more problems. However, I later saw that it may be because she struggled to tell her husband, Jende some things. So sharing what was on her mind with others helped her get through those things.

Their immigrant experience was a key theme running through the book. The novel provided an alternative perspective on immigration at a time when the main political discourse seems to be about anti-immigration.

While Jende is facing financial pressure with paying to resolve his immigration case and to support his young family, his family in Cameroon still contact him to ask for money. They are unaware of how living in America doesn’t mean Jende is affluent and can afford to cater to all their needs.

Behold the Dreamers made me question if the West is the only place where people can live a successful life. Neni wanted their children to stay in America because it would offer them greater opportunities.

I was taught at school about push and pull factors that make people migrate to new places [Push factors meaning things that make you leave and pull factors meaning things that attract you to the new place]. Behold the Dreamers illustrated this through detailing the personal experience of the Jongas and what made them leave Cameroon.

*Check out my YouTube channel for my latest video on the books I read in July here.

Experience Epe Resort

I was in Lagos for 2 weeks in June. Prior to going, I had planned with my fiance (now husband) that we visit a resort in Lagos for a couple of days. We checked out different options online including La Campagne Tropicana, Whispering Palms in Badagry and settled on Epe Resort.

We decided not to go to Whispering Palms because there’s a lot of traffic on the route to Badagry where Whispering Palms is. I had also been to Whispering Palms twice when I was a teenager so I wanted to go somewhere new. La Campagne Tropicana was another attractive option but I just decided not to go there this time. Although, I hope to visit La Campagne Tropicana some other time.

Getting to Epe wasn’t difficult. It was a 2-hour drive from Gbagada (Lagos Mainland) to Epe. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the way. We got there in the afternoon and settled into our room. The rooms are in small bungalows around the resort. We stayed in the Superior Garden Room. It was large enough for two people. They had larger rooms which were more expensive but we felt that we didn’t need the space in a larger room.

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Our honeymoon package cost 225 000 naira for 3 nights. The package was all-inclusive so the price covered breakfast, lunch and dinner. We received complimentary wine and a fruit basket on arrival. Their food was good. We ate a lot of snails, prawns and fish. Epe is by water so it’s known as a great place to get seafood.

It was the rainy season when we visited so we had to be indoors on some days. We went swimming once as they have an outdoor swimming pool. They have a tennis court and space for football. I didn’t do any of the other things because I’m a couch potato.

In general, I would recommend staying at Epe Resort if you’re looking for somewhere relaxing to stay. I spoke about my experience at Epe and showed some clips of the resort in my YouTube video below.

6 Ways To Discover New Books

There are a million and one books and it can be difficult choosing what to read. I once came home when I was a teenager and my mum told me that she had just finished a novel called Trust Me by Lesley Pearse. She said it was a moving story and recommended that I read it. The story is about two children from England who were sent to an Australian orphanage in the 1950s. I read it and went on to read more Lesley Pearse novels.

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My mum’s read many Lesley Pearse novels too that I can’t get her any of her novels as a surprise present for her because she may have read it. I think she chooses books based on if she has enjoyed their previous work. 

So, people choose books based on if they’ve enjoyed the author’s previous books. How do I pick books to read? Well, based on my mum’s recommendations although I recommend more books to her now. These are a few ways that I discover new books. 

  1. Blog and YouTube reviews: I have subscribed to a few YouTube channels like Penguin Platform and Reads and Daydreams. Penguin Platform is a channel from Penguin Randomhouse so they only talk about books they’ve published. They run a giveaway every month but I’ve never won so I stopped entering their giveaway. Maybe, I’ll enter their next giveaway and see if I’ll be successful. I recently read Elif Shafak’s Three Daughters of Eve after watching one of their videos. Three Daughters of Eve_mini
  2. Friends: I speak to my friends about books they’ve enjoyed. My friend, Eniola told me how good I Do Not Come To You By Chance by Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani was. I found it at my local library so I borrowed it. The novel didn’t disappoint. If it had, I would have stopped taking Eniola’s recommendations.
  3. Events: I lived in London for a year and would go to author events. The book stands would be irresistible so I would end up going home with a book or two. Since moving to Nottingham last August, I’ve been to only two events. One, where I got Gary Younge’s book Another Day In The Death of America and another on Feminist Publishing. Both events were organised by Five Leaves Bookshop. If you live in Nottingham, you can check them out. I went home with a long reading list of feminist books after going to their event in April and I’ve been reading a few feminist nonfiction books since then. I Call Myself A FeministJPG_mini
  4. Podcasts: Authors are often interviewed on some podcasts that I listen such as Ctrl Alt Delete hosted by Emma Gannon and BBC’s Woman’s Hour. They discuss their books and if I find them interesting, I add them to my growing reading list. I read a book by Sophie Kinsella (Finding Audrey) for the first time this year after listening to Sophie Kinsella on Emma Gannon’s podcast. 
  5. Films: Reading Hidden Figures about female African-American scientists was a decision I made after watching the trailer of the film adaptation. I probably may not have read the book, had I not seen Taraji P Henson in the trailer. Taraji P Henson
  6. Bookshops/Libraries: Any day I have spare time and I’m out in the city centre, I usually stop at the library or any bookshops to see what books they have. I may just browse through the books at a bookshop and not buy anything. However, it requires a lot of self-discipline when I go to a bookshop. 

These are the main places I find books to read. When I see a lot of people talking about a book on social media, I usually check the books too.

I found a book yesterday while reading a podcast review on iTunes. The book is called The Upstarts:  How Uber, AirBnBand the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley are Changing the World by Brad Stone. I googled it and read an excerpt. Then, I found that the author, Brad Stone was on the Penguin podcast discussing the book. I ended up ordering the book from my library while listening to him on the podcast episode.

If you’re looking for a book to read over the summer or at any time, you can use these options or read reviews on my blog or check out my YouTube channel.

Films and Reads I’ve Enjoyed Lately

I usually post reviews of books on the blog. However, I know that people may not be able to access some of the books readily. I thought I’d share links from the internet so if you’re interested in reading and not be able to get a book, this post may be helpful in getting some content to enjoy.

Films

I watched Small Island on Netflix, which is a 2-part drama based on the prize-winning novel- Small Island by Andrea Levy. It’s about a Jamaican couple who move to England in the 1940s.

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The husband, Gilbert played by David Oyelowo arrives in England before his wife and sends for her. She is shocked to find that England wasn’t the country she thought it was. The wife, Hortense had always dreamt of teaching in an English school. She trained as a teacher for three years in Jamaica and her qualifications were not accepted when she applied to teach in England. They told her that she had to train again.

Small Island follows their struggles and explores what the experiences of early Caribbean immigrants in England.

The other show I’ve enjoyed watching is Kemi Adetiba’s episode with Tara Fela-Durotoye in the King Women series. If you’re unfamiliar with Tara, she’s a pioneer in the Nigerian make-up industry and is the CEO of the makeup brand, House of Tara.

I had seen Tara Fela-Durotoye’s interview on CNN African Voices so I thought I was quite familiar with her story. However, Tara went into a greater detail about her childhood and how she got married at 24 as a way of escaping her family in the King Woman episode. She grew up in a polygamous home without her mother and that affected the experience, she had at home. Even boarding school was a way of escaping from her family.

It made me think that sometimes we look at people and say they’re successful but we don’t know the challenges they’ve faced. I like stories on business people and the episode with Tara Fela-Durotoye was great.

Reads

I enjoyed reading Andrea Levy’s essay titled “How I learned to stop hating my heritage” on the Guardian. While watching Small Island, I wanted to know more about the author who wrote the novel and I googled her and the essay came up. The essay explores Andrea Levy’s experience as a child born to Jamaican parents in England. She discusses shade-ism and how parents felt they were better because they had a lighter skin tone than other people with a similar descent.

Andrea Levy’s father arrived in England on the Empire Windrush ship and I had heard about this ship’s arrival and how it marked the beginning of significant migration from the Caribbean to Britain. It was interesting to me because I had never heard of people who had direct relationships to passengers on the Empire Windrush.

Another post that I enjoyed was the 53 Painful, Horrible Experiences That Are Way Too Real For Black Women article on Buzzfeed. I could relate with everything in the article- from having to reject plans for a specific day because it’s the day I’ll be washing my hair to finding my headscarf’s slipped off my head in my sleep.

I remember when I’d spend hours watching hair tutorials on YouTube and I’d never be able to achieve those styles with my hair. That was frustration.

Do check out the links and let me know your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Goodreads

 

Book Review: Love Me Unconditionally by Ola Awonubi

Love Me Unconditionally is a romance novel set in Lagos and London. It’s about a lady in her thirties known as Deola, who has been a long-term relationship. Her boyfriend promises her marriage if she can get pregnant for him. However, she doesn’t get pregnant so that puts strains on their relationship. The relationship ends on a sad note and Deola has to move on from it.

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She decides she needs a change of scenery so she moves to Lagos. As Deola is in her thirties, she faces pressure from her mother to get married and her family tries to set up with potential suitors. The novel follows her time in Lagos and whether she’s able to find love again.

There’s a full review of the novel on my YouTube channel.

*Love Me Unconditionally was kindly sent to me by the author, Ola Awonubi. However, all views are mine. You can find the book on Okada Books and on Amazon.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterley: A Tale of Race, Discrimination and Achievement in the Modern World

Hidden Figures was a book I discovered after its story had been made into a film. It tells the true-life story of African-American women who worked in aeronautics and their role in helping America win the space race.

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Hidden Figures talks about these female mathematicians who worked in a white, male-dominated sector. They faced challenges such as having a segregated bathroom and not being allowed to participate on certain tasks because they were women.

They were pioneers in their field, occupying positions that black women had not previously worked in. In the past, black women with mathematics degrees mainly worked as teachers in underfunded segregated schools. When roles opened for black women at NASA,  it gave black female graduates the chance to work in a different sector and earn more money.

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These female mathematicians faced challenges such as having a segregated bathroom and not being allowed to participate on certain tasks because they were women. However, with persistence and delivery of excellent work, they were able to progress. There was a particular woman, Katherine Johnson who had asked to participate in editorial meetings. She was told she couldn’t because she was a woman. By persistently questioning this, she was finally allowed to attend. This was in 1958. There’s been a progress in that, sexual discrimination in the workplace is becoming more unacceptable.

The story also explores the social situation in America during the time, Katherine Johnson and her peers were working at NASA. Margot Lee describes this well in this section of the book.

So much money spent so that between 1969 and 1972 a dozen white men could take the express train to a lifeless world? Why, Negro men could barely go to the next state without worrying about predatory police, restaurants that refused to serve them, and service stations that wouldn’t let them buy gas or use the bathroom.

While some were glad that America had made into space, there were difficult conversations being had on how there were no black astronauts at the time. People also challenged the fact that a lot of money was being spent on the space programme while people were poor and dispossessed in the United States. Was this the right way to spend government funds? Although, I felt the good side about the government spending money on the space programme was that it created jobs that helped some black families move up the income ladder.

I enjoyed reading Hidden Figures but I must say some sections were quite technical. There were areas where Margot Lee wrote about the work being carried out in NASA and it was a bit hard for me to follow. Besides that, it was quite readable.

Technology is mainly seen as an industry dominated by men. Reading Hidden Figures helped me realise that women, including black women, made contributions to technology in the middle of the twentieth century and this should be recorded in history.

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I would recommend this if you’re looking for something inspiring to read and if you’re interested in the experiences of African-Americans. These female mathematicians worked in challenging circumstances and made a difference in their families and in the workplace.

*I got my copy of Hidden Figures at WhSmith at St Pancras Station. You can get the book on Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones and WhSmith. 

Literature At School and Its Influence on my Reading

Reading through my last post where Damilola spoke about books and reading, I realised that she liked some of the literature texts we read at secondary school. Damilola mentioned that she liked Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Both are books we read at school. I remember struggling to get through these books for my IGCSE literature exam.

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I preferred the poetry section in literature at school. One of the poems I studied that stuck with me was The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

I don’t know if it was the thought that I had to read a book to pass an exam that made me not like literature. I wonder at other times if it was the selection of books that didn’t appeal to me. Primary school and junior secondary school literature was fine. I enjoyed reading Without A Silver Spoon by Eddie Iroh which was about a young boy from a poor background in Nigeria. Oliver Twist was also good.

I think a few of the books I read at school between ages of 8 and 13 had a common theme on how a family’s income can influence a child’s life chances, from Oliver Twist to Without A Silver Spoon.  I read Mother’s Choice by Agbo Areo when I was 11. This had a similar theme. It was about a young boy from a rich background in Nigeria and his parents send him to boarding school in England at a young age. He becomes wayward when he starts school in England.

The books at senior secondary school were the ones I struggled to read. It was at this stage that my class read Things Fall Apart and Romeo and Juliet. I feel because I was in a large literature class, it was hard for me to learn during classes. We usually had about 30 people in an average class. However, for literature, we were over 40 students in a class that was meant for 30 people.

If I were to suggest an improvement to my secondary school literature class, it would be that the teacher breaks the class into small groups. People can then discuss each book as though they were in a book club. That would have aided my understanding on each book. We could have had these book discussions in small groups during the many prep times we had. I went to boarding school and we had a lot of prep (periods in the afternoon and evenings meant for personal study).

I got through school and did well in literature but I think I should have taken more time to read the books. When it came to choosing subjects for my A Levels, I thought of doing Literature but I ended up choosing Sociology in place of English Lit. I also did French and Economics.

Although, I didn’t carry on studying literature at A Levels, I still enjoyed reading. I volunteered last year as a tutor in a secondary school in London and I assisted with their English lessons. The Year 7s read The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and I read that with them. It’s about a boy who lives near a concentration camp in the Holocaust but he didn’t know what was going on in the camp. It was an interesting read and I also watched part of the movie adaptation.

Given that I didn’t really understand some of the literature texts I read at school, I’ve decided to re-read Things Fall Apart and I picked up a copy from my local library.  I think I might prefer reading it as an adult. Damilola recommended it and I’ll let you know my thoughts when I’ve read it.

Let me know if you studied literature at school and what books you enjoyed.