BKMT READING GUIDES

No.
98


 
Informative,
Insightful,
Inspiring

5 reviews

Behold the Dreamers (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel
by Imbolo Mbue

Published: 2016-08-23
Hardcover : 400 pages
32 members reading this now
6 clubs reading this now
8 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 5 members
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 ...
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Introduction

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

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY 
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

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of August 2016: One of the greatest things a novel can do is to raise empathy in a reader. Behold the Dreamers does that slowly and surely, as Mbue tells the story of Jende Jonga, his wife Neni, and their six-year-old son. Jende has arrived from Cameroon, and after a stint working as a dishwasher he lands a job as the driver for Clark Edwards, an executive who is reaping a fortune at the soon-to-be doomed Lehman Brothers. Jende is poor, living in Harlem, but with his new job he is able to move his wife and son to New York—he feels he is on the fast track to his American dream. Clark is rich, but has troubles of his own, and conversations in the car—private ones between Jende and members of the Edwards family, talks overheard on cell phones—begin to reveal these fissures. In this wonderful debut novel, we watch events unfold for both families in ways that suggest the American dream might be more fragile than advertised. Mbue is a master of presenting a scene and allowing the reader to see between the lines; the result is the thrill of feeling that, for one of those rare times, we might be able to accurately imagine what it’s like to be someone different from ourselves. --Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review

Excerpt

No Excerpt Currently Available

Discussion Questions

1. Immigration plays a huge role in this novel. For the Jongas, America is a place of hope and promise, a “place where you can become somebody,” but the machine and policies are anything but welcoming and clear and the road to citizenship is jagged. Discuss the portrayal of the American immigration in this novel. How does this shift the traditional representation of America?

2. In Jende’s job as a driver for the Edwards family, he often transcends the boundaries between their public personas and their private lives. Behind the safety of a closed car door, the Edwards show their truest selves and Jende is often a silent witness to much of what they would not show to the world: marital issues, the crumbling of Lehman Brothers, infidelity, family arguments. How does this impact Jende’s understanding of this family? How does it inform our interpretations?

3. Though both the Edwards and the Jongas have their own individual worries, so much of what concerns both of these couples is the well-being and success of their children. Discuss the parenting styles that the Edwards and the Jongas utilize. How are they similar? How do they differ? Why do we place so much weight on the raising of children? How can our own pathways in life lead the way we direct our children? How do our parents impact our view of the world and futures?

4. On the surface, it would seem that Cindy and Neni are two extremely different women. Cindy, in particular, is a conflicted person: sometimes ignorant, conniving, self-centered. However, it soon becomes clear that, in their own ways, Cindy and Neni are bonded, both women struggling to understand their roles as wives and women, and as the novel progresses, their identities seem to merge. How else are they similar? How are they different? What do they learn from one another?

5. Discuss the character of Vince Edwards. What do you make of his relationship to his family and his thoughts about his country? How do his opinions play a larger role in the novel? What do you think is in store for him in India?

6. Though they moved to America to find better life as a couple and as a family, both Jende and Neni are inevitably impacted by the way America shapes their own personal identities. What are some of the ways in which they change as individuals over the course of the novel? How does their marriage change? Do you feel this is for the better or worse? How does it speak largely to the way America’s ideals impact the members of its society?

7. Discuss the role of dreams in the novel. How do dreams drive the plot of the novel? What kind of dreams do these characters wish to achieve? What dreams are deferred?

8. Though external forces drive the plot of the novel, the marriages of both the Edwards and the Jongas fuel a lot of the drama as well. How do these marriages differ? How are they similar? How do both of these relationships influence the events of the story?

9. Though Jende and Neni are both “outsiders” in American society, they also seem to have the clearest observations and insight into American culture. What are some examples of this? How does the role of an outsider provide a unique vantage point?

10. The Jendes often reflect on their home of Cameroon with both nostalgia and negativity; though they have left their homeland for a better country, Cameroon still remains in their hearts and minds. However, it is clear that even for Clark and Cindy, who are American citizens, it is very difficult to forget where you came from, the history that made you who you are. Discuss the concept of “home” in this novel. How does it impact the central characters?

11. Perhaps one of the saddest moments of the novel is the Jongas’ return to Cameroon. What do you think of this decision? How do you envision their lives if they had tried to stay in America?

12. Consider the theme of power in the novel. How do some of these characters hold power over one another? How do they yield this power?

13. Discuss the choice to place this novel in an America on the brink of recession and the Wall Street collapse. How would this story have looked different without this moment in American history? What would these characters’ journeys have looked like?

14. Discuss the character of Clark Edwards, a man who seems to have many different sides. What is his culpability in the collapse of Lehman Brothers? What type of husband and father is he? Would you consider him a good or a bad man?

15. Consider the role of the American Dream in the novel. How is this ideal defined in this story? In what ways is it manifested in the central men and women of this story? How does it fail them?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by YaYa_Reads (see profile) 12/29/19

 
by jmiddleton (see profile) 09/24/19

 
by Rosensteph (see profile) 08/03/19

 
by jcunningham (see profile) 06/25/19

 
by horne_sidney (see profile) 06/21/19

 
by [email protected] (see profile) 06/13/19

I really like this book. The themes are timely!

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