Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue)

"You know what I'm realizing now?...We are sitting in the center of the world...think about it. 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 at the center of the world, right?"

"You know what I'm realizing now?...We are sitting in the center of the world...think about it. 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 at the center of the world, right?"

Cameroon / 2016

I finished Behold the Dreamers! This debut novel is about a Cameroonian immigrant couple's struggle to build a new life in New York City during the Great Recession. It's impossible to talk at length about this book without spoiling the ending, which I really don't want to do. This is a solid and spirited book. Stylistically, I found the pacing to be quite slow. I skimmed through many sections that were stuffed with unnecessary details and/or needlessly flushed out conversations. (I tend to prefer sparser, more suggestive prose). Although slow, the pace was even and a treat to follow. I enjoyed how Mbue cleverly wove the two families together. But I didn't enjoy how much focus was put on making the Edwards family seem more "human." I also did not enjoy how uncritically Neni's love for serving and appeasing Whites was written. She was such an annoying, cringeworthy character. This book had its moments, but it was mostly very realistic, which I appreciated. What I liked most was the glimpse it gave to the harsh realities of working class immigrant life in NYC. I don't know much about immigration or, obviously, what it's like to be an immigrant. So, it shined a much needed light on the lives of the many African immigrants I frequently saw working incredibly hard in NYC. Overall, I'd recommend reading this book not just in the context of "immigration" but also in the context of dreaming. It made me wonder how to discern between a legitimate dream and a fleeting goal. It made me consider my own dreams, and if they're just image-based fantasies or real, attainable visions. Lastly, I connected with this book on a personal level because I've just experienced something very similar to the Jonga family: I had to reexamine a dream of mine. I thought it was what I really wanted, but it turns out I was mostly just attracted to the idea of it. I was clinging so tightly to this idea of what I thought I wanted—what I thought would be best for me—that I had convinced myself that it was the only way I could be successful in life. Reading BTD made me see that sometimes abandoning a "dream" invites the possibility for other realities- things more life-giving and true to who we are. 3/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️.

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