Book Discussion Questions: Behold the Dreamers

behold the dreamers book coverTitle: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Page Count: 382 pages
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Tone: Fast-Paced, Compelling, Immigrant Experience

Summary: In 2007, Manhattan-based Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga gets a job chauffeuring for Lehman Brothers executive Clark Edwards, easing the financial strain on his family. At first, all goes well, but problems in the Edwards’ marriage lead to problems for the Jongas, and when Lehman falls, both families are caught up in the terrible aftermath. The Jongas — at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, fearing deportation — have much more to lose than the wealthy Edwards family, but together provide a perspective on the accessibility (or lack thereof) of the American Dream, as well as a poignant look at globalization and immigrant life.

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement: 2018 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Jende is trying to get a green card and stay in the U.S. We learn that that he is seeking asylum, using an invented excuse (his girlfriend’s father wants to kill him). What did you think about this?

2. Why do you think Jende wanted to come to the United States?

3. Jende’s cousin Jende was helping Jende to come here. What do you think differentiated their experiences in the U.S.?

4. What was your initial impression of Jende’s lawyer, Bubaker?

5. While Jende is driving Clark, they are having a conversation wherein Jende extols the virtues of Limbe. Clark then asked him why he wants to stay in America:

Jende: “Because my country is no good…..I stay in my country I would have nothing. My son will grow up and be poor like me, just like I was poor like my father. But in America, Sir? I can become something.”

What do you think of Jende’s comments? Does his view change by the end of the story?

6. We are introduced to Lehman Brothers and right away, start seeing the cracks. Clark seemed to know what was happening with Lehman Brothers. Do you see any culpability on his part? What do you think he should have or could have done?

7. Did you feel empathy for Clark?

8. Jende and Neni get married at city hall. Jende told Clark that it wasn’t the marriage certificate that made him feel married; it was the bride price he paid. Your thoughts.

9. Let’s explore Jende and Neni’s relationship. What did you think about their marriage?

10. Can you compare Clark and Jende? What do you see as the differences between how their diverse cultures treat women.

11. What were your thoughts initially about Cindy? Were you surprised by how her character developed?

12. Jende’s brother called for him to send money because he couldn’t afford tuition for his kids. Cindy gives him $500. He sends $300 and pockets the rest. What should he have done with the money?

13. Let’s look at the children; we’ll start with Vince Edwards. He turned down a prestigious internship, wants to drop out of law school and move to India to “find his truth.” What did you think about that? Did Vince like the United States?

14. What did you think of Mighty? Do you think the Jongas genuinely liked him?

15. Let’s look at Neni’s character. What did you think of her as a mother? How do you think her parenting style compares with a typical American born mother? Jende as a father? The Clarks as parents?

16. When working for Cindy Edward at the vacation house, Neni finds Cindy passed out in her room and doesn’t know what to do. Jende tells her to pretend she sees nothing. What did you think about this?

17. Anna the housekeeper wants Neni to talk to Clark about Cindy’s drinking. Not knowing what is going to happen to Cindy, if you were in Neni’s position, what would you have done?

18. What did you think about Neni’s desire to join a church?

19. Jende was very upset that Neni told the church about their immigration status.

“For the first time in a long love affair she was afraid he would beat her…and if he had, she would have known that it was not her Jende who was beating her, but a grotesque being created by the sufferings of an American Immigrant life.”

What did you think about Jenda’s reaction? What about how Neni response to Jende’s anger?

20. Cindy approaches Jende and wants him to spy on Clark. What should Jende have done? What did you think of Winston’s’ suggestion that Jende blackmail Cindy, with her drug use, in order to get her to stop pushing him to spy on Clark?

21. Ripped from actual headlines, comes a scandal. An “escort” is interviewed by the paper and mentions Clark by title and said that her services were being paid for by bailout money. What were your thoughts?

22. After Lehman collapses, who was affected most by it? Victimless?

23. Clark fires Jende. How did you feel about that?

24. Neni went to Mrs. Edward to try to get Jende’s job back, let’s talk about that? Could you sympathize with Neni’s blackmail attempt because of her situation?

25. Do you think this was something Neni would have done when she was living in Limbe? Did America change her? What did you think of Jende’s reaction to the money Neni got from Mrs. Edwards?

26. Why do you think Neni was so desperate to stay in America? Was her experience so different from Jende’s?

27. What did you think of her idea of divorcing Jende and marrying her friend’s cousin? What were your thoughts at her idea to let her professor adopt Liomi?

28. Let’s talk about Neni’s conversation with Dean Flipkins. She wanted his help with a scholarship and he denied her. What did you think about that?

29. Let’s talk about Cindy’s death. Do you believe that Neni was complicit? Were you surprised at how guilty she felt?

30. Vince called Neni to step in as Mighty’s nanny. What did you think of Neni’s decision not to help?

31. Jende makes the decision to go back home. What did you think about that? Why did he make this decision? Do you think Neni had a choice about leaving the country?

32. At the end of the novel, there were several characters that seemed to change their opinions of living in the U.S.:
a. Winston said, “one day …there will be no more Mexicans crossing the border to come to America”
b. Fatou said, “after 26 years, she was ready to stop braiding hair for a living and go back home”, her children wanted nothing to do with West Africa and she wondered if they thought they were better than her.
c. Natasha said, “remember when we welcomed our visitors at Ellis Island with lunch boxes and free medical checkups. They (the Jongas) are returning home because we as a country have forgotten how to welcome strangers.”

What were your thoughts?

33. Jende went to see Clark at the end to thank him for all he did and told him he was a good man. Thoughts. Why do you think Jende never went to Clark for help?

24. Do you think the Jonga’s will be happy back in Limbe? Why/Why Not? Did America change Jende?

35. Is New York a good place for immigrants? Did this book give you any insight into immigration in the United States?

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OTHER RESOURCES:

NPR’s Book Review
The New York Time’s Book Review
Imbolo Mbue’s official author website
LitLovers discussion guide
Lithub interview with Imbolo Mbue

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