Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324
Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers is a novel written with her first-hand knowledge of the process of immigration to America as well as her experience having lost her job in New York during the 2008 financial crisis. She is from the same town (Limbe, Camaroon) whence her protagonist Jende Jonga hails.
Her story is about an immigrant family—Jende, Neni, and their six-year-old son, Liomi—living in New York as they pursue the elusive and nebulous American Dream. At the novel's outset, Jende nervously awaits an interview with an investor with Lehman Brothers (one of the major financial firms that went bankrupt in 2008). Jende receives the job working for Clark Edwards as a chauffeur, and the novel traces the intersections of the lives of Jende and Neni and Clark and his wife, Cindy.
At first glance, Jende and Neni are ostensibly much harder pressed to make their way in America than Clark and Cindy; however, the financial crisis of 2008 and Lehman' Brothers' resultant bankruptcy levels the playing field, as Clark and Cindy suffer their own misfortunes. While Jende learns that he is to be deported, and Neni learns that she is pregnant, Clark develops a habit of meeting prostitutes at a hotel, and Cindy engages in destructive drug and alcohol abuse. Both, too, struggle with their children. Liomi (Jende and Neni's son) acts up in school, and Vince (Clark and Cindy's son), decides to leave America to go to India.
The novel demonstrates the rippling effect that the financial crisis proved to have on these families, as the situations of both families change dramatically. Cindy dies of drug-related problems, and Jende is fired by Clark owing to financial insolvency. However, as Jende and Neni prepare to go back to Camaroon, they realize how comparatively wealthy they will be with the money leftover from their employment in America. In this way, the novel also invites readers to reconsider the viability and worth of the American Dream.