Saturday, March 4, 2017

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

This was a fantastic first novel about the "American Dream" and how it can go terribly wrong.  The main characters are Jendi and Nene, immigrants to New York City from Cameroon.  Jendi arrived on a visitor's visa and overstayed his welcome - he is working with a lawyer of questionable morals and skill to make an asylum claim.  Nene is studying at a local community college and dreams of becoming a pharmacist.

For a while things look good for the couple - Jendi gets a job as a chauffeur for a Wall Street executive, Clark Edwards.  He is paid more money than he has ever received driving Clark, his wife Cindy and their sons Vince and Mighty.  Nene even makes extra money by spending the summer with Cindy in the Hamptons working as an assistant housekeeper.

The problem with the dream is that Clark works at Lehmann Brothers, which eventually implodes.  The book examines how this business failure destroyed so many lives, both directly and indirectly.  Not only is Clark affected by the closure, but his stress and overwork has a terrible impact on his wife and sons.  And it results in job loss for Jendi, and Clark's secretary and others who must now struggle to find work in a recessionary economy.  Jendi is not even able to return to work as a cab driver as there is more demand for driving jobs than there are cabs on the roads.

So Jendi and Nene have to figure out how to go forward with less money and an uncertain immigration status.  The American dream they had strived for their whole lives does not turn out at all as expected.  And terrible things happen to both their family and the Edwards family, whose fates have become intertwined more than one would expect from and employer-employee relationship.

I don't want to give away the ending - I will just say it is not your typical happy immigration story.

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