How could anyone have so much happiness and unhappiness skillfully wrapped up together?
That’s the America Imbolo Mbue presents in Behold The Dreamers. It is ‘a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers‘ and also the land that is not open to its neighbours. In that torn place, the Cameroonians Jenda Jonga and his wife Neni struggle to make America their home.
Not only does the city of New York sway between harsh cold and warmth, Jenda and Neni also contradict themselves throughout the book that’s full of moving dialogues. As much as they love their Limbe, they celebrate New York for it could make them somebody, make their children somebody.
In a conversation with his boss Clark Edwards, Jenda, who is his chauffeur, observes about Limbe, The Town of Friendship:
…as you pass through Mile Two, you will see the lights of the town at night as they are shining all around you. The lights are not too bright or too many. They are just enough to say that this is a town made of magic.
Edwards wonders why Jenda would leave that magical place. The innocent immigrant says that America is America. With that illusory love for the country, Jenda and Neni face a series of predicaments before they could grasp the ultimate truth — the meaning of home.
Neni amuses me. She is a mad, mad dreamer. Her children have to grow up as Americans. She has almost set that idea in stone, and to make that dream come true, she even prepares herself to dismantle her life with Jenda, making her very own dream futile. Quite an oxymoron, and an interesting one at that.
In Mbue’s story, no character is stereotyped. They are all kind. They are all cruel. They are all mired in dreams and despairs, and they are all exhausted by their never-ending inner battles.
Behold The Dreamers offers many stories — the story of a boy who is fond of the Universe and Oneness, the story of a man who jeopardises his marriage and family and try to salvage it when choppy waves have already engulfed it all, the story of children who don’t want to be anything but children, the story of a woman who was born out of rape, the story of a woman whose voice is stolen by her husband, and the story of a country which quietly plays with their lives.
Maybe, Mbue’s writing is not as intense as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s. But Mbue has many stories; they are relevant, significant, and charged with all things human.
Home will never go away
Home will be here when you come back
You may go to bring back fortune
You may go to escape misfortune
You may even go, just because you want to go
But when you come back
We hope you’ll come back
Home will still be here