Behold the Dreamers is the debut novel from Imbolo Mbue, an American by way of Cameroon, that came out in 2016.
The story explores the journey of a Cameroonian couple, the Jongas, who make it to New York just before the economic crash. The Jongas see America as the promised land where anyone can become anything, without the same limitations and restraints they’d face in Cameroon.
It is an honest and heart wrenching story, in which Mbue deftly highlights flaws in the American dream, and the assumptions that many Africans make that the grass is greener in America.
Juxtaposed with this, the story also explores the life of Clark Edwards a partner at Lehman Brothers and his family, although both families interconnect, Mbue illustrates how starkly different their lives, privileges, opportunities, and challenges are.
I found the story-telling in this really engaging, as you become invested in the Jonga family and in them succeeding in America, for every cousin you know back “home” who’s painstakingly saving to leave, or who’s banking on that scholarship to whisk them away.
Without ruining the plot, Mbue doesn’t serve the traditional happy ending I expected, but I love it all the more for that, and look forward to the magic she creates next.