Behold The Dreamers is an entertaining read, easy and fast-paced, light on plot. After all, this is a story that has been told many times before. The catch with Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, however, is the contemporary setting of the story – America’s financial crisis of 2008/2009 . In doing so, the author brilliantly dramatizes an immigrant’s view of an ideal America, an America worth fighting to become part of, during a period of darkness in the early 21st Century when many Americas were incredibly disillusioned.
The story is told through the views and eyes of Jende and Neni, a couple from Cameroon to whom America can do no wrong, even in modern-day New York City, roaches and all, with a future so bright they gotta wear shades. Jende is a chauffeur for a Wall Street player; Neni a young mother studying to be a pharmacist. Neither is completely innocent and both strive and fight, worry and stress, love and listen, in order to obtain that holiest of grails, American citizenship.
Then the crash happens. The Wall Street balloon pops. And so do the couple’s dreams. What else is an immigrant to do but continue to fight? Which they do. Sometimes against the system. Sometimes against each other. Sometimes against their own dreams.
Mbue creates a set of enjoyable, relatable characters but their simplistic, and perhaps idealistic nature, does not fully complete the characters. At times the dialogue as well can be predictable and basic. However, Mbue does successfully install an affirming spirit within the two. They are happy, positive, and continue to dream. Something all Americans, regardless of our origins, need to remember.