“But the Universe gives us different sources of Love to unite us all as One. Who are we to decide what the source of our Love should be at any given time? Love is Love, and at any given point we have everything we need.” ~ Behold the Dreamers
Honestly. I had super high expectations for this book because this is a diverse story written by a woman of color. I REALLY wanted to love it but it has come down to being just a satisfactory read for me. Although I appreciate the advocacy in the book community for more diverse stories, I still feel there is a lack of representation of it. Not only a lack of representation, but the hype is not there as well. There's definitely a push for more diverse stories, but there also needs to be a push for stories written by diverse authors which is why I was excited for this. Imbolo's writing is vivid and heartfelt, but overall the pacing was incredibly slow.
I kept noting the similarities between this and Americanah by Ndichie Not that they are similar tales in context, but they both encapsulated, very well, the struggle immigrants face when assimilating to a new environment unfamiliar to them. There's the adjustment to learning a new way of life, a new way of thinking, habits and language that are not embedded in their consciousness. It is a complete shift. Check the synopsis below.
The story is focuses on 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.
“People in this country, always
worrying about how to eat, they pay
someone good money to tell them:
Eat this, don’t eat that. If you don’t
know how to eat, what else can you
know how to do in this world?”
~ Behold the Dreamer
This story focuses on Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian native attempting to gain permanent citizenship in America. He leaves his homeland in order to make a better life for his wife, Neni, and his son Liomi. He secures a job with a wealthy executive, Clark Edwards, in Harlem, New York and after two years sends for his family. What I liked most about the way Mbue wrote the two main characters is that she kept them both sort of balanced about family even in the midst of chaos. The underlying idea is always family enrichment. Neni had dreams of becoming a pharmacist all while being the matriarch and on her own journey of self discovery. Jende, although frustrated, with not being able to easily reach the American socio-economic status that he desired, he mostly kept a level head and always kept his family first in mind.
Considering the current political and racial climate, what I also loved about Mbue's writing is that she was unafraid to tackle the topic of men of color and their relationship with law enforcement. I tabbed the page where Jende’s immigration lawyer says, “The police is for the protection of white people. . . . but not black men.” I think African American males have a full understanding as well as acute situational awareness when it comes to engaging with law enforcement. This made me ponder about men of color who immigrate here, particularly those of African descent, who may not be familiar with or have knowledge of this particular fiber of America.
I actually had difficulty identifying the plot or maybe I did and was just underwhelmed by it. Jende finds out that his boss Mr. Edwards, whom he chauffeurs for, mishandles finances and filed for bankruptcy (If I'm remembering correctly) which left Jende wondering about unemployment in his future. I think the sequence of circumstances that Jende and Neni faced were natural consequences of acculturating themselves in America. The minutiae's of Jende's job put strain on their marriage. Neni who eventually worked for the Edwards, as well, in the Hamptons also added more stress and the anxiousness felt by Liomi because he didn't understand why he couldn't have the simplest thing like a toy truck. It reads more like an overarching theme of dealing with life's hardships so some grand climactic plot/plots weren't present. No matter the genre of book I'm reading, I enjoy that.
In addition, I felt Mbue could have expounded more on the things her characters were encountering. This probably would have made for a more a thrilling plot in my opinion. What could Jende have done when Mr. Edwards filed bankruptcy? What could have been his course of action or something that could have put fire under his belt? I wanted more from him, not just the notion of taking what life throws at you and accepting the destiny of trouble, but doing something with it. Mbue doesn't necessarily detail this in the story, but I love the subtle way these characters represent class in the American ethos - those that have and those that have not.
I still would recommend this book even with some of my displeasures. I love Mbue's writing, but I wish the pace of it was better.
My Rating 3/5