Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

A Novel

Book - 2016
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A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream--the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy

New York Times Bestseller * Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award * Longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award * An ALA Notable Book

NPR * The New York Times Book Review * San Francisco Chronicle * The Guardian * St. Louis Post-Dispatch * Chicago Public Library * BookPage * Refinery29 * Kirkus Reviews

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty--and Jende is eager to please. Clark's wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses' summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers' façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende's job--even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Praise for Behold the Dreamers

"A debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller." -- The Washington Post

"A capacious, big-hearted novel." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Behold the Dreamers' heart . . . belongs to the struggles and small triumphs of the Jongas, which Mbue traces in clean, quick-moving paragraphs." -- Entertainment Weekly

"Mbue's writing is warm and captivating." -- People (book of the week)

"[Mbue's] book isn't the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, but it's surely one of the best. . . . It's a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American." --NPR

"This story is one that needs to be told." -- Bust

" Behold the Dreamers challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred." -- O: The Oprah Magazine

"[A] beautiful, empathetic novel." -- The Boston Globe

"A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess." -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Mbue [is] a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . [Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts." --Minneapolis Star Tribune
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2016]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780812998481
Branch Call Number: MBUE I
Characteristics: 382 pages ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

Lyrically-written set in Harlem (New York City) and winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award.

LPL_KateG Jun 22, 2018

My book club enjoyed this and had a great discussion about immigration, the American Dream, class differences in various places, and what it means to live a satisfying life. This novel was compelling and had characters who were complex and interesting. I would highly recommend this for a book club!

From the critics

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Apr 20, 2021

This book, about a family of Cameroonian immigrants who live in New York at the beginning of the 2008 recession, was thought-provoking. Sometimes the “American Dream” is just too hard or it’s not all that legends make it out to be. Beautifully narrated.

Dec 29, 2020

This book is great, with some very emotional parts that make you really contemplate the situation. Personally, I was able to relate to some parts of the story and really enjoyed the relatability of it. Also, I liked the ending even though it was very unexpected and very unlike the main character. The dram between the two main families was very gravitating, personally. Pretty easy read without having to reread over and over to understand. Definitely recommend.

Dec 16, 2020

an amazing and very true dialogue of what it means to be an immigrant and surviving in america for the first time. this story is heartbreaking but valiant while connecting two totally different families through themes of similarity. mbue truly puts america's freedoms, positives, and negatives into perspective and shows everyone what it means for immigrants and their families to be living here. a great raw read if you're into that.

Dec 11, 2020

Enjoyable fiction that thoughtfully touches on issues of race/class/gender. Characters and themes are morally complex. The ending is not what I was expecting or wanting, but that's life... Plus, this is Jende and Neni's story and they remain optimistic.

Sep 15, 2020

This is one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to (thanks for the rec, Cale!). Prentice Onayemi is an extraordinarily talented narrator, and I will seek out his other audiobook projects. This book, its characters, and their plights reminded me of the movie Parasite. I'm so very looking forward to Imbolo Mbue's upcoming release, How Beautiful We Were.

Aug 23, 2020

What a great book! Easy to read, captivating and very real. Would particularly speak to anyone who is an immigrant. Thought provoking about the parallelism between the economic crisis of 2008 and the current Covid-19 one.

Apr 15, 2020

This book shouldn't have taken as long to read as it did, but Covid-19 happened, leaving me with no time for anything outside of work and family.

With that out of the way, I thought this book was a fantastic look into a lifestyle I've had very little exposure to. The characters were complex, interesting and well-developed. They felt real. As did the story. I appreciated all the cultural references and the wide variety of secondary characters as well as the core family. I suspect that I would have enjoyed it even more had I been able to focus on it over a shorter period of time.

Strongly recommend.

Jul 18, 2019

This book is about a couple from Cameroon who are living in New York City and are actively trying to secure their papers so they can stay. It is also about an American couple who hire the African husband to be their chauffeur. The two families become involved somewhat in each other's lives and we see both the joys as well as the struggles that both couples face. What I loved about this book was how you get to see things from every side. The good and bad of both the rich American family as well as the immigrant family. I didn't think there were any obvious villains in this story. Each character had strong and weak qualities and they were all just doing the best they could in their own lives which were messy at times. I liked all of them, despite their flaws. This was a very readable and engaging story.

Jun 22, 2019

I really enjoyed this easy to read, full of believeable characters and foreign culture novel. Good job. Would read her again, for sure

Jun 13, 2019

26 copies. 12 available. American dream immigrant story. Cameroon culture.

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Dec 30, 2020

nain8 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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ArapahoeMaryA Sep 27, 2017

Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi mystic. He’s the one who said, ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ Which was his own way of saying, ‘Let’s not dwell too much on labeling things as right or wrong.


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