Book Chat: Behold the Dreamers – an immigration and deportation novel

One of the things you have to, no, must do as a writer, is read.  Seems simple enough, till you remember that time is finite.  There is also TV to watch, and pets to feed, and that pesky pile of laundry that refuses to put itself in the wash…oh, and that paying job too.  Which, I do actually love my paying job.  And I love my pets, so maybe those two things shouldn’t be on this list.

Regardless, time is finite.  But in order to write good fiction, one must read good fiction. And one must also read some not so good fiction too…know what pitfalls to avoid, right?

I try to read often.  And it’s a requirement before turning on the TV.  Book first, TV second…if at all.

The book I read recently, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue was worth the time away from Grey’s Anatomy.

Three reasons you should read this book:

  1. You learn about the life of an immigrant family trying to make it in the US…a hot topic for sure in this political environment.
  2. Mbue’s writing style flows like a rushing river, makes you want to start the next chapter even though you already promised yourself you’d turn the light off when the last chapter ended.
  3. It’s a best seller on several lists and if you don’t read it right now, everyone else will be able to talk about it and you will be twiddling your thumbs and staring at the spider making a web in the corner of the ceiling.

I personally resonated with this book because I have had the wonderful opportunity to live with foreign internationals in a variety of settings.  And one of my roommates was from Cameroon and did in fact struggle with her visa expiring, the same nationality as the main characters in Behold the Dreamers.  Now, in my real life situation, I bore witness to a marriage to our other very American roommate so she could get new paperwork and stay in the country…something the female lead, Neni, contemplates doing so she too can stay in the country she has come to love.

Why must our immigrant friends have to make such sacrifices and decisions to show their dedication to our country?  My roommate was working as a chemist, she was part of the team that invented the packets of dishwashing detergent we have all come to love where there are those 3 separate detergents in one neat little plastic tab.  But her student visa had expired and her company couldn’t/wouldn’t sponsor a work visa.

And I didn’t want to see her leave.  Who was going to spend 8 hours every few weeks braiding my hair?  Because, as a rather pale skinned Irish girl, finding someone willing to do a full head of braids on you is actually kind of hard….or at least it was back then.

I digress. The book, as this is supposed to be about a book after all, takes you on a journey of learning what these real life struggles are really like.  Even if you never had a Cameroonian roommate or went numb from sitting on the floor while your scalp was on fire from the braiding process…you will feel like Jende and Neni are your personal friends.  As if they cleaned up their apartment and invited you over to sit on the floor and share a meal with them.

Mbue will first inspire you to like the rich family that hires Jende, and then despise that same group of characters when they turn their backs on him.  But you will come to feel compassion for all the characters, even when they make decisions that hurt another, because in the end, everyone cannot win.  That isn’t how life works.  Jende and Neni ultimately make the best of what they have been offered, it just isn’t what they were hoping for.

Have you read Behold the Dreamers?  Or do you have a friend that is right now facing an unfair deportation order?


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