Gosh. Like Homegoing, I had a hard time putting this book down. Even though the book is set in 2007-2008, around the time that Lehman Bothers collapsed, it is still important to read in 2020, especially since, in the past few years, we have witnessed a president who has exhibited all manner of toxic anti-immigration sentiments. I devoured this book in about a week because it was so good.
Behold the Dreamers takes place in New York City in 2007. Jende and his wife Neni have a son and are expecting another child. They have left Cameroon for the United States and found employment, and they find themselves working for a white American couple named Clark and Cindy. Clark and Cindy are upper middle class people who live busy lives, but they have dark secrets, one being that the company Clark works for, Lehman Brothers, is doing shady stuff that could lead to the company going underwater. Another dark secret is that Cindy struggles with addiction and alcoholism. Even though Neni tries to help her and find out what is bothering Cindy, Cindy pushes her away and tells her to mind her business. But as the novel goes on, things get more stressful, and also Jende and Neni are struggling to stay in the U.S. because they don’t know if their request for asylum will get approved.
This was an important book to read because I didn’t know much about the Lehman Brothers collapse other than what I learned briefly in my history and social studies classes in high school. This novel taught me that Lehman Brothers didn’t just affect American citizens but also immigrants like Jende and Neni who not only have to deal with losing their jobs, but also losing their right to stay in the U.S. I never thought much of the American Dream but after reading books like Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, and after listening to my friends from countries outside of the U.S., like India and the Congo, talk about their struggles to obtain green cards and apply for permanent residency in the U.S., I have a different idea of what the American Dream is. When I read The Great Gatsby in high school, we talked about how the novel portrays the American Dream, but it was from the perspective of a well-to-do white American guy who never had to get a green card or even think about his citizenship. The American Dream isn’t accessible to many people and to get the American Dream requires a lot of emotional and financial sacrifice for many people who immigrate to the U.S. While I can’t relate to what immigrants go through, I can’t begin to imagine what a stressful process it is, but watching John Oliver break it down was fairly helpful.
Overall, a very important book to read for our time.
Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue. 2016. 382 pp.