Neni came to join him filled with hope, and with dreams of getting a college degree and becoming a pharmacist. They live in a tiny fifth floor flat in Harlem with their young son Liomi. Life is not easy, but it’s not Cameroon. Imbolo traces out the minutiae of their lives – the dignity and indignity of being black, poor and waiting for ‘papers’ – and their relationships, with each other, with their friends and importantly, with Jende’s wealthy employers. Clark Edwards’ troubled wife Cindy plays is a key role, as do the Edwards sons, Vince and young Mighty. Things change when Neni falls pregnant with baby Timba. But things really change, and for the worse, when the stockmarket crashes. It’s 2008. Jende loses his job – but not necessarily for the obvious reasons.
On her facebook page, I read that Imbolo recently spoke on Maine Public Radio in an interview about cultural appropriation, asking is it right for artists to ‘dip their pens into other people’s blood’. In it she says ‘people are more likely to tell their own stories with empathy’. As I see it a writer can tell other people’s stories with empathy too – if inevitably through the prism of their own lens and experience. But as neither a Cameroonian nor a New Yorker, I come away from this book with empathy for both. I feel doubly enriched by reading a story that shares both first and second hand experiences with care. Simply it’s a book about cultural exchange, clashes and coming together. And finally, about home.
. Behold the Dreamers is a new title in the Woman Zone African women writers section. Due out later this year is Mbue’s new title: How Beautiful We Were.