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Behold the Dreamers
Cover of Behold the Dreamers
Behold the Dreamers
A Novel
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A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in...
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in...
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Description-

  • A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy
    New York Times Bestseller • Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award • Longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award • An ALA Notable Book
    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY 
    NPR • The New York Times Book Review • San Francisco Chronicle • The Guardian • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Chicago Public Library • BookPage • Refinery29 • Kirkus Reviews 

    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 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.
    Praise for Behold the Dreamers

    “A debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller.”The Washington Post
    “A capacious, big-hearted novel.”The New York Times Book Review
    “Behold the Dreamers’ heart . . . belongs to the struggles and small triumphs of the Jongas, which Mbue traces in clean, quick-moving paragraphs.”Entertainment Weekly
    “Mbue’s writing is warm and captivating.”People (book of the week)
    “[Mbue’s] book isn’t the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, but it’s surely one of the best. . . . It’s a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American.”—NPR
    “This story is one that needs to be told.”Bust 
    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: The Oprah Magazine

    “[A] beautiful, empathetic novel.”The Boston Globe
    “A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
    “Mbue [is] a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . [Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts.”—Minneapolis...
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book One

    He'd never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview. Never been told to bring along a copy of his résumé. He hadn't even owned a résumé until the previous week when he'd gone to the library on Thirty-­fourth and Madison and a volunteer career counselor had written one for him, detailed his work history to suggest he was a man of grand accomplishments: farmer responsible for tilling land and growing healthy crops; street cleaner responsible for making sure the town of Limbe looked beautiful and pristine; dishwasher in Manhattan restaurant, in charge of ensuring patrons ate from clean and germ-­free plates; livery cabdriver in the Bronx, responsible for taking passengers safely from place to place.

    He'd never had to worry about whether his experience would be appropriate, whether his English would be perfect, whether he would succeed in coming across as intelligent enough. But today, dressed in the green double-­breasted pinstripe suit he'd worn the day he entered America, his ability to impress a man he'd never met was all he could think about. Try as he might, he could do nothing but think about the questions he might be asked, the answers he would need to give, the way he would have to walk and talk and sit, the times he would need to speak or listen and nod, the things he would have to say or not say, the response he would need to give if asked about his legal status in the country. His throat went dry. His palms moistened. Unable to reach for his handkerchief in the packed downtown subway, he wiped both palms on his pants.

    "Good morning, please," he said to the security guard in the lobby when he arrived at Lehman Brothers. "My name is Jende Jonga. I am here for Mr. Edwards. Mr. Clark Edwards."

    The guard, goateed and freckled, asked for his ID, which he quickly pulled out of his brown bifold wallet. The man took it, examined it front and back, looked up at his face, looked down at his suit, smiled, and asked if he was trying to become a stockbroker or something.

    Jende shook his head. "No," he replied without smiling back. "A chauffeur."

    "Right on," the guard said as he handed him a visitor pass. "Good luck with that."

    This time Jende smiled. "Thank you, my brother," he said. "I really need all that good luck today."

    Alone in the elevator to the twenty-­eighth floor, he inspected his fingernails (no dirt, thankfully). He adjusted his clip-­on tie using the security mirror above his head; reexamined his teeth and found no visible remnants of the fried ripe plantains and beans he'd eaten for breakfast. He cleared his throat and wiped off whatever saliva had crusted on the sides of his lips. When the doors opened he straightened his shoulders and introduced himself to the receptionist, who, after responding with a nod and a display of extraordinarily white teeth, made a phone call and asked him to follow her. They walked through an open space where young men in blue shirts sat in cubicles with multiple screens, down a corridor, past another open space of cluttered cubicles and into a sunny office with a four-­paneled glass window running from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, the thousand autumn-­drenched trees and proud towers of Manhattan standing outside. For a second his mouth fell open, at the view outside—­the likes of which he'd never seen—­and the exquisiteness inside. There was a lounging section (black leather sofa, two black leather chairs, glass coffee table) to his right, an executive desk (oval, cherry, black leather reclining chair for the executive, two green leather armchairs for visitors) in the center, and a wall unit...

About the Author-

  • Imbolo Mbue is a native of the seaside town of Limbe, Cameroon. She holds a BS from Rutgers University and an MA from Columbia University. A resident of the United States for more than a decade, she lives in New York City.
    Behold the Dreamers, her critically acclaimed debut novel, won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was named by The New York Times and The Washington Post as one of the notable books of 2016. It was also named as a best book of 2016 by NPR, Kirkus Reviews, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The novel also won the 2017 Blue Metropolis Words to Change Prize.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 13, 2016
    From Cameroonian Mbue comes a debut novel about two immigrants struggling to find their footing in a new world. When Jende Jonga journeys to New York City from Cameroon in 2004 on a visitors’ visa in hopes of obtaining a green card, he’s sure his life will only improve. After saving up enough money to bring over Jende’s wife, Neni, and six-year-old son, the family moves into an apartment in Harlem. Then Jende hits the jackpot in 2007 when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a wealthy Lehman Brothers executive. But working for the Edwardses isn’t as cushy and above board as Jende expected. Clark’s long hours at the office and frequent late-night “appointments” at the Chelsea Hotel raise red flags with his wife, Cindy. When Neni agrees to accompany the Edwards family to Southampton as a temporary nanny for their youngest son, she learns far more than she bargained for about Cindy’s fragile mental state. Before long, the pressure of keeping what they know about Clark and Cindy—and the threat of deportation—becomes too much for the Jongas to bear, threatening the stability of their marriage and their ability to remain in a country they still can’t call home. Mbue’s reliance on overheard phone conversations to forward the plot makes for choppy reading, and the tenor of the Edwardses’ rich-people problems is nothing new. But the Jongas are much more vivid, and the 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. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from May 1, 2016
    The American dream is put to the test by the economic disaster of 2007. Among the spate of novels forged in the crucible of the previous decade, Mbue's impressive debut deserves a singular place. This diversely peopled and crisply narrated story follows the trajectories of two Manhattan families, one at the top of the social heap and the other at the bottom. In the foreground is Jende Jonga, an immigrant from Cameroon, his wife, Neni, studying to be a pharmacist, and their young son. When Jende, who has been working as a dishwasher, scores a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a muckety-muck at Lehman Brothers with a troubled wife and similarly aged son, the fates of the Jongas and the Edwardses become entwined. Except for a nagging immigration problem being handled by a lousy lawyer, things go very well at first. Jende loves dressing up in a suit and driving a Lexus while Clark conducts endless cellphone conversations and laptop machinations in the back seat. Neni excels in school and becomes pregnant with a child who will be born a U.S. citizen. Then, during her summer hiatus in the Hamptons, Mrs. Edwards hires Neni to help with child care. One day she finds her employer disheveled and crashed out at midday; around this time, Clark starts having Jende take him for one-hour visits to the Chelsea Hotel. Cracks in the Edwards marriage are paralleled by trouble for the Jongas, too. Yet the magnitude of the catastrophe makes itself clear only slowly--particularly to immigrant eyes, dazzled by everything from shopping at Pathmark to the presidency of Obama to the freedom of Occupy protesters to demonstrate without being rounded up and thrown into prison. They will learn. Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    June 1, 2016
    They could not have picked a worse company to hitch their wagon to nor a worse time to do so. It is late 2007, and the economy is on the cusp of the Great Recession when young Cameroonian immigrants Jende and Neni Jonga chase after the American dream in New York City. Despite lacking papers, Jende finds a job as chauffeur to one of Lehman's top executives, Clark Edwards. Juggling children and jobs, wife Neni works toward her ultimate goal, a pharmacy degree. The Jonga family's fate intertwines with the Edwardses', and both families are caught in the financial and emotional fallout following the Lehman collapse. The Edwards family verges on a caricature of the rich and troubled (Clark's wife, Cindy, is addicted to drugs, and son, Vince, sets off to India to find himself), but the Jongas are vividly realized, their struggles and petty concerns soulfully narrated, with sparkling dialog. The occasional melodramatic note notwithstanding, Mbue's first novel is a weighty meditation on the true collateral costs of that all-American pastime, the pursuit of happiness.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2016

    This heartfelt and intimate portrayal of African immigrants trying to make it in New York City around 2007 focuses on the family of Jende Jonga from Cameroon. He lands a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy finance industry boss and is then able to bring his wife, Neni, and their young son over from Africa. Neni enrolls in college and is hired as a cleaner and nanny for the family for whom Jende works, and they become more involved with these superrich people who have problems of their own. As the Wall Street financial crisis deepens, Jende loses his job, and their application for asylum is rejected. The incredible pressures of poverty, limited opportunities, and the grind of New York City and an uncertain future stress the family to the breaking point as a new baby is born and they struggle not to lose sight of their dream. Mbue's debut portrays these individuals realistically and sympathetically as the stresses of surviving in New York City lead to marital difficulties and physical confrontations. VERDICT A fast-paced, engaging read with an interesting cross-cultural background. [See Prepub Alert, 2/8/16.]--James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2016

    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. Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga is overjoyed when he lucks into a job as chauffeur for one-percenter Clark Edwards, and his wife, Neni, is subsequently hired as household help. Alas, troubles in the Edwards marriage edge into the lives of the Jongas. Then comes the economic crash of 2008--and Clark is a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Lots of library marketing.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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