Imbolo Mbue’s “Million-Dollar” Novel: Behold the Dreamers

Originally published in Scribbles from the Den

Dibussi Tande


Behold the Dreamers


Imbolo Mbue. (March 15, 2016). Behold the Dreamers: A Novel. New York: Random House, 384 pages. Formats: Ebook, Audio, Hardcover. Available on pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.



It was destined to be a debut novel like no other from the moment word came out of the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair that American publishing giant, Random House, had signed a seven-figure deal for the North American rights to The Longings of Jende Jonga, a novel by Cameroonian writer Imbolo Mbue – a record by any measure, and particularly so for an unpublished African writer unknown within the African or American literary community.

With no previous published work and virtually no social media footprint, Internet sleuths were unable to dig up any worthwhile information about this mystery novelist described by her agent, Susan Golomb, as “part of the new generation of African writers just being discovered.” Ainehi Edoro of Brittle Paper best captured the prevailing mood within the (African) literary community when she wrote that: “If you’re like me, you probably curious about her writing. What does the writing of a million-dollar debut novelist look like?”

The veil over Imbolo Mbue’s writing was partially lifted in December 2014 when The Threepenny Review published her short story “Emke”. Thanks to this teaser, readers were finally able to get a feel for what Random House’s David Ebershoff had earlier described as her “intelligence, empathy, and talent.”

The improbable story of this debut novel got even better when the Hollywood Reporter announced last May that Sony’s Tri-Star division had bought the movie rights to The Longings of Jende Jonga. “Some are predicting a literary hullabaloo for the Cameroon-born author,” wrote the Reporter, and with good reason!

Available on Preorder

This week, The Longings of Jende Jonga finally became available on pre-order on online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. However, don’t bother searching for The Longings of Jende Jonga because the title has been changed to Behold the Dreamers. An email from the author reveals that “Random House and I agreed that BEHOLD THE DREAMERS is a far better title for the book.”

Regarding concerns about her absence from social media Imbolo reassures her readers and fans that “Yes, I’ll be getting a website soon where dates for signings/readings, etc., will be posted. And a Facebook page, too. If I can completely get over my social media phobia, I’ll get on Twitter, too.”

Beyond the Hype
So, will Behold the Dreamers live up to the promise, or has it promised more than it can deliver? Here’s what Imbolo says: “No, you won’t find any reviews of the book quite yet, for obvious reason. But my husband read it and called it ‘Brilliant!’, ‘Great!’, ‘Wonderful!’, ‘Amazing!’ Yes, please take this with four grains of salt.”

While we might take the husband’s enthusiastic endorsement with “four grains of salt,” we cannot brush off the views of Golomb who says the novel “has drawn some of the most delightful and refreshing characters seen in recent fiction,” or of Ebershof who compares Imbolo with witers such as Chimamanda Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri.

By the way, for those who’re not sure how to pronounce her name, here’s an aide-memoire from the author:

Imbolo Mbue is pronounced Im-Ball-Law mmBWere, not Im-Bowl-Low Ma-Bue or Me-boo. That’s right. Mbue is just one syllable. I completely agree, it’s such an easy-to-pronounce name 🙂

About Behold the Dreamers

While waiting for the March 15, 2016 release date, we now have a better handle on the story thanks to the detailed blurb on the author’s Random House page:

For fans of Americanah and The Lowland comes a debut novel about an immigrant couple striving to get ahead as the Great Recession hits home. With profound empathy, keen insight, and sly wit, Imbolo Mbue has written a compulsively readable story about marriage, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream.

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at their summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ facades.

Then the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Desperate to keep Jende’s job, which grows more tenuous by the day, the Jongas try to protect the Edwardses from certain truths, even as their own marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.


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