Friday, May 12, 2017

Cameroon: Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue

I was delighted when I saw in the advance publicity for Imbolo Mbue's debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, that she is Cameroonian. Not so delighted when I discovered that she lives in the United States, has done so for more than a decade, and that her university education took place there. And further, that the novel is about the experience of immigrants in New York, chasing the American Dream. More of an American novel than an African novel, then. So for Cameroon, I bought, and read, Angèle Kingué's Venus of Khala-Kanti instead. But I still wanted to read the Mbue novel, and I'm glad I did.

The Jonga's - Jende and Neni, and their son Liomi - are Cameroonians trying to make it in New York. While Jende works as a chauffeur for an investment banker on Wall Street, Neni is studying at community college with a dream of going to pharmacy school. Jende does not have a green card but does have a permit to work while waiting for his asylum application to be heard. His wealthy employer, Clark and his wife Cindy are also in their own way pursuing the American dream. Cindy had a hard childhood and is insecure about her social position. The interaction between the two couples, and the events that unfold during the collapse of Lehman brothers and subsequently, form the narrative of the novel. We also meet Clark and Cindy's two children, Vince who wants to give everything up and search for peace and enlightenment, and the younger son Mighty.

Although set in New York, the novel reveals a good deal more than I expected about life in Cameroon. It is a place where everyone's dream is to leave and go somewhere else. And yet, will they find happiness there? In the end, in their own way, Jende, Clark and Vince all find a path that satisfies them. (And yet, given that the author is a woman, I find it a little strange thinking about it now that the women in this book are more harshly treated).

Be that as it may, I enjoyed the book very much, and would be interested to read more by the same author in future.

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