Behold the Dreamers (Mbue)

Behold the Dreamers 
Imbolo Mbue, 2016
Random House
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812998481

A debut novel about an immigrant couple striving to get ahead as the Great Recession hits home. With profound empathy, keen insight, and sly wit, Imbolo Mbue has written a compulsively readable story about marriage, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream.
Jende Jonga, a 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 their 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’ facades.
Then the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Desperate to keep Jende’s job, which grows more tenuous by the day, the Jongas try to protect the Edwardses from certain truths, even as their own marriage threatens to fall apart.

As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Limbe, Cameroon
Education—B.S.,Rutgers University; M.A., Columbia University
Currently—lives in New York City, New York, USA

Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon, who came to U.S. to attend college. She attained her B.S. from Rutgers University, and later her M.A. from Columbia University.

After losing her job during the 2008 Wall Street financial crisis, Mbue had to start over from scratch—and that led to her sitting down to write her debut novel. A resident of the United States for over a decade, she lives in New York City with her husband and children. (Adapted from the publisher.)

Book Reviews
In the near decade since the onset of the Great Recession, few works of fiction have examined what those years felt like for everyday people, how so many continued to hope and plan and love amid pervasive uncertainty. Enter Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, a Cameroonian American who situates her characters of US shores just as prosperity is beginning to seem like a thing of the past.... Behold the Dreamers challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred.
O Magazine

A revelation.... Mbue has written a clever morality tale that never preaches but instead teaches us the power of integrity.

Gripping and beautifully told.
Good Housekeeping

Imbolo Mbue’s masterful debut about an immigrant family struggling to obtain the elusive American Dream in Harlem will have you feeling for each character from the moment you crack it open.
In Style

This story is one that needs to be told.

[T]he book’s unexpected ending—and its sharp-eyed focus on issues of immigration, race, and class—speak to a sad truth in today’s cutthroat world: the American dream isn’t what it seems.
Publishers Weekly

Impeccably written, socially informed, in development by Sony Pictures, and an exemplar of the tremendous new writing emerging from Africa, Cameroon-born Mbue's big debut opens in 2007 New York.
Library Journal

At once a sad indictment of the American dream and a gorgeous testament to the enduring bonds of family, Mbue’s powerful first novel will grip and move you right up to its heartfelt ending.
Shelf Awareness

(Starred review.) The American dream is put to the test by the economic disaster of 2007....  [T]he magnitude of the catastrophe makes itself clear only slowly.... Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use these LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Behold the Dreamers...then take off on your own:

1. Describe Jende and Neni Jonga as we first meet them. Talk about their naivete, as well as their perseverance—the lengths, for instance, the couple goes to prepare Jende for his interview. Trace how they change during the course of the novel.

2. As Jende drives Clark and Cindy Edwards about New York, what do we learn about them and their way of life? Is it as glamorous as one would expect? What does Neni learn when she stands in as nanny for their son in Southampton? Are the Edwards good people?

3. At one point, Jende and Neni wonder how people who are as wealthy as the Edwards are could "have so much happiness and unhappiness skillfully wrapped up together." What is the answer to that?

4. What do Jende and Neni love about the U.S? Has reading their story enabled you to see American life with a fresh perspective?

5. Talk about the immigration and legal bureaucracy that is designed to discourage, if not outright prohibit, immigrants from fully achieving the American Dream.

6. And speaking of the American Dream, is the title of Mbue's book ironic...or not? Are the Jongas the only ones in the book who seek the dream?

7. Mbue writes about Jende: "He was an honest man, a very honest man." How does his attempts to live in American change him? Is it worth securing a life in the United States if doing so destroys who he is?

8. How does Mbue portray the 2008 economic collapse and its effect on both the top and the bottom socio-economic levels of society?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off with attribution. Thanks.)

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