As I write this, my homeland is experiencing nation-wide rioting, sparked by the senseless death of George Floyd. Yesterday, I was planning to announce that “Behold the Dreamers” was the best book I read in May, and why. Then I saw the #blackouttuesday movement, and followed it without question. It’s the least I can do to drop out of Instagram in support of a movement bigger than me and my little book blog announcement.
It also came at a time when I needed a break from social media. And now that I’ve had a whole day to reflect, to tune in to all the dialogue around #blacklivesmatter, and to the anxiety punching around in my body, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for reviewing this very special book. Not because it’s unworthy of praise. It’s a work of art, this book, that honestly should become a classic.
I’ve lost enthusiasm because “Behold the Dreamers” is “(a) dissection of the American dream…” (per The New York Times quote on the cover). It’s the story of Jende, Neni, and their six year old boy coming to American to pursue a better life. They are not African Americans. Though they want to be. And even though they failed to obtain a green card, and committed some atrocities along the way, in the end they never lost their homeland. What happens when you are an American and the American Dream fails you? Where can you go?
“Behold the Dreamers” is also about the stake-holders, mostly white and affluent, who lost their footing during the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, Americans had elected their first black president. Finally, the nation’s black Americans could feel at home. Right?
So here’s the thing. I highly recommend “Behold the Dreamers.” I learned much about the immigration system and the glacial pace of bureaucracy behind green card applications. I fell in love with the couple from Cameroon, who had nothing but hope and good fortune when they first arrived. The language they used, the food they cooked, the all day and night dancing and togetherness that occurred when someone was born, and when someone died. It was all so beautiful. And I loved the family to whom their fate was entwined, due to Jende’s job as a chauffeur for a VIP on Wall Street. People made good choices, bad choices, and suffering ensued. The writing, plot and character development is excellent. But the book deserves more than I can give it right now.
My heart is aching for America and the disenfranchised people living there. And I don’t know when the hopefulness will return just yet. I don’t know when my jaw will unclench. Or when I can bring my A game to reviewing books that matter. Books that shine above the rest. Books that end happily, or at least hopefully.
So a lacklustre review is what I’m doing for now. While I wait for hopefulness to return.
“Indeed bad news has a way of slithering into good days and making a mockery of complacent joys.”
― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers