Becoming American

Published August 22, 2016

As in many great New York novels, the metropolis at the center of Imbolo Mbue’s debut, Behold the Dreamers (Random House), is fraught with promise and peril. It’s fall 2007, and whispers of the impending financial crisis can be heard in certain neighborhoods of upper and lower Manhattan. Enter Jende and Neni, a young, immigrant Cameroonian couple intent on forging the American Dream: fulfilling careers, an education for their son, a home in the suburbs. Jende lands a job as a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers, the doomed investment bank; Neni eventually starts working for the executive’s wife at their summer home in the Hamptons. So begins a powerful and slightly madcap relationship between the two couples, one that is tested when catastrophe—i.e., the Great Recession—hits. Mbue proves herself a clear-eyed, unflinching storyteller, and Behold the Dreamers is a fearless, head-on journey into the thorny contemporary issues of American exceptionalism.