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.
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.