I finished Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue about 24 hours ago and I’m already certain that this is one of my favorite reads this year.
The novel follows Jende and Neni, a Cameroonian couple who immigrate to the States chasing the problematic American Dream we’re all familiar with. Jende is struggling through a failing asylum application process while Neni is depending on a student visa with an expiration date. When Jende gets a job as a chauffeur for a Lehman Brothers executive and his family, they can’t believe they’re good fortune–until it all comes crashing down.
There are certainly myriad joys in the immigrant experience, but there are also a hell of a lot of disappointments and pain, especially these days. This novel doesn’t shy away from that raw, bracing reality. Any reader who has ever had the unfortunate experience of being mistreated by the immigration system in this country will feel every single word when Jende and Neni express their frustrations and fears throughout the novel. In fact, that part of this book should be especially admired. It isn’t always easy to articulate some of the hardships of being an immigrant, much less put them down on a page, and Imbolo Mbue has managed to capture it so well that it’ll be as if the book is speaking right to you.
“It seemed to him a rather pathetic way of being, postponing the inevitable. He would much rather be truly free.”