April 2, 2020

Behold The Dreamers Is Compelling, Passionate and Brutal In All The Right Places

Ever since I discovered African authors in the way of Chimamanda's Half Of A Yellow Sun, I have developed a rather healthy obsession with African authors. Something is moving about picking up a book and discovering an incredibly familiar world between the pages. Witnessing African cities and people come to life and being represented in a way that's passionate, charming and more importantly, honest is an incredible thing for any African reader whose reading material has mostly been made up of predominantly Western characters. Reading about characters whose lives and experiences bear an incredible resemblance to your own adds a certain depth to the reader's experience. This is why Imbolo Mbue's Behold The Dreamers was such a magical read for me.

In Behold The Dreamers, Mbue follows the lives of Jende Jonga a Cameroonian migrant in America, his wife Neni and their son Liomi as they leave their hometown of Limbe and try to make a life for themselves in America. While I have never been a migrant, I found myself drawn to the vibrant Limbe with its markets, crazy drivers and larger than life inhabitants. Like every African town, it is full of life but void of the promise of a better life to the young and hungry who have been sold on the American dream and as a result, Jende moves his family to America. When Jende is hired as a driver, upon the Jongas' move to America, by Clark Edwards, an investment banker for Lehman Brothers in New York in the year 2008, the Jongas' and the Edwardses' lives become intertwined in ways they would have never expected. In the wake of the 2008 recession, both families are pushed to extremes in desperate attempts to keep their heads above water and their respective families together and in Jende's case to keep his family from being deported.

In a mix of humor and compassion, Mbue paints a picture of hope and dreams that are at times torn apart by the brutality of reality and necessity. In Behold The Dreamers one quickly realizes that at times our deepest desires, even when at the tips of our fingers, may not be the best alternative for us or the ones we hold most dear.