For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a love, respect and curiosity regarding other cultures. Growing up in America’s third largest city, Chicago, there was no shortage of ethnic variance which fueled my passion for others. My appreciation for different ways of life only deepened after reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. It’s a phenomenal story about America seen through immigrant eyes.
Behold the Dreamers is the story of two Cameroonian immigrants, Jende and Neni Jonga, who are looking to create the American Dream in New York City. Neni is working her way through college with the dream of becoming a pharmacist and her husband, Jende, is a cab driver wanting to provide a good life for his wife and 6 year old son, Liomi. Jende begins working as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Lehmann Brothers executive, and his wife, Cindy. This novel is set in 2007, right before the collapse of the housing market which greatly affects the characters.
After reading this book, I was left with a lot of things to think about. What dreams am I pursuing in my life? What do I think about immigration in America? But one theme that did stick with me is how lucky I am to live in this country.
Despite what you may think about her and her issues, America truly is a place where if you work hard, you can become whatever you want. There are people in other countries that envy living here. It’s called the land of opportunity for a reason. Your greatest adversary of achievement regarding what you can become is you and how hard you are willing to work. The author, Mbue, does a great job of conveying the struggle of the protagonists as well as providing beautiful imagery that will make you want to see New York City in all it’s glory.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Neni describes the “serene” way we compare prices in the American grocery shopping experience to the gleeful disorder of purchasing food in a Cameroonian market. I personally wouldn’t use the word serene to describe grocery shopping but it definitely gave me some perspective.
This excerpt from chapter 14 is one of my favorites.
“We are sitting in the center of the world.”
She laughed. “You’re so funny.”
“No, think about it,” he said.
“Columbus Circle is the center of Manhattan. Manhattan is the center of New York. New York is the center of America, and America is the center of the world. So we are sitting in the center of the world, right?”
Behold the Dreamers was released in 2016 and is Mbue’s debut novel. It is now an Oprah’s Book Club pick which is how I heard about it. (Thanks, Twitter 🐦.) I’d never read an Oprah’s Book Club book before but I can see why they are so popular if they are all this good. I decided to give it a chance since I still had some summer reading to do at the time. I hadn’t read 350 plus pages that fast in a while.
I highly recommend this book! It will awaken dreams within you that you’ve forgotten about and make you want to pursue those dreams. Have you read Behold the Dreamers? If you decide to and finish it let me know! I’d love to discuss it with you!