Sunday, October 2, 2016

Read Imbolo Mbue's "Behold the Dreamers"

Last year a friend recommended a book - Americana by Nigerian author Chimimanda Adiche - and I was captivated by a fascinating account of an immigrant's view of America and race. A key element of Adiche's book is the observation from her protagonist that "before I came to America, I wasn't black." That insight about race and identity set the novel on a higher level of social criticism that has intrigued me for quite some time - especially in the era of "the Trump candidacy."

Since I read Adiche and took a second look at her TED Talk - the "Danger of the Single Story" - I have been intrigued by more works from African immigrants turning a lens on America. And using book reviews and Amazon recommendation as so many of us do to find comparable works, I happened across an inspired work from Cameroonian author Imbolo Mbue called Behold the Dreamers. A third person narrative set in 2007-08 in New York City amidst the implosion of Leyman Bros and the crash of the US economy, "Behold" is exactly the book that we wish Donald Trump and his supporters could read ... and understand.

Telling the story of a Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga who wants so desperately to embrace the  American Dream, "Behold" juxtaposes two complicated American lives on either side of the wealth and citizenship divide in contemporary America. Jende is facing eventual deportation if he cannot earn a green card, but he is given hope when he earns the job of chauffer to a Leyman Bros exec. It is a beautifully whimsical and painfully poignant portrait of the antithetical struggles of two families to survive in New York in early part of the twenty-first century. In that way, it reminds me of another great work about the immigrant experience juxtaposed with middle/upper class sensibility, The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle.

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