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Review|Behold The Dreamers-An intoxicating Debut


Behold the dreamers is an intoxicating migrant story. Showing the struggle of the undereducated African in America. Mbue’s work is a must read if you want to know the cost which lack of immigration papers, immigration and lack of self-worth can cause.

Behold the dreamers is set in the times surrounding the 2008 financial shock. With ease and an unusual form of dexterity, Mbue tells the story of a random immigrant family. And it is through the travails, joy and humanity of this family that we see what America really is.

Amazingly, Mbue Imbolo manages to show how sometimes immigrants are ready to help themselves against almighty America. Is it Winston that helps Jende free of charge to get a visa, then to get a job, then to get a lawyer just like that? Or is it the closely knit sisterhood life, Neni, finds in Fatu and Betty? It is all just surprising even more to see that all Immigrant story don’t end from grass to grace. Nah! Sometimes fate in the form of a global meltdown happens. And when it strikes even the owners of the land themselves shed blood.

Though from almost all perspective, Jende seems to be the main character, because it is his job with Mr Edwards that drive the plot, it is the finality to go back home that puts a curtain to it. And his thoughts like an African man; ‘you didn’t get married because no one wanted to marry you, or you didn’t find anyone you loved enough to marry, because no woman with a brain intact will say no to a man she loves if the man wants to marry her. Women enjoy making noise about independence, but every woman, American or not, appreciates a good man. If that wasn’t the case why did so many movies end with a woman smiling because she finally got a man?’However, Neni, the best portrait of an African woman and wife seems more qualified. Because it is from her that the weaknesses, the sub-plots of the story is able to move. Right from her discovery of Mrs Cindy Edward secret to creating an haven for Mighty, the child, then blackmailing. It becomes obvious the levels a woman can go to for her family.

Sometimes, that decision not to relate with other humans because of their colour and origin isn’t merely because of stratification. It is just a humane desire to relate with the persons with whom it is most easy to relate with. And when Neni says it ‘Even in New York City, even in a place of many nations and cultures, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, preferred their kind when it came to those they kept closest. And why shouldn’t they? It was far easier to do so than to spend one’s limited energy trying to blend into a world one was never meant to be a part of.’ It solidifies what America really is.Behold the dreamers is one of the few books with a perfect blend of African languages and English. And the thought process of Jende was immediately understandable when we saw what stood against him.

Mbue also gives Christianity a chance to show it is a religion of love-using Natasha, the pastor to show that possibility. Sincerely, I want to find no fault in how the story flows but I realise in a way we were rushed. For it is almost as if Mrs Edward had always wanted to die and the immigration lawyer didn’t want Jende to stay on in America. I love the story and a line that sticks with me is what Jende says to Leah, ‘It’s the fear that kills us, Leah,” Jende said. “Sometimes it happens and it is not even as bad as the fear. That is what I have learned in this life. It is the fear.”’


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.


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.


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