I wish I had a book club to discuss this with. There's much to grapple with--immigration, marriage, class, and cultural differences.
A couple from Cameroon struggles to stay in the US. Jende Jonga has working papers, but is in immediate danger of being deported. His wife Neni, is on a student visa and studying to become a pharmacist. When Jende secures a job as a chauffeur for a Lehman Brothers investment banker their hopes skyrocket. It's 2008, and Jende is earning $35,000 a year, which allows the couple to save toward their legal expenses and still send money to Limbe to support their families back home.
If you caught "2008" and "Lehman Brothers" and thought "uh oh," you were right to worry. Jende's job isn't threatened at first, but the financial crisis is wearing on his employers, the Clarks. Edward and Cindy Clark have marital issues that ultimately impact the Jonga marriage, as well.
The story is told in the two Jonga voices. I don't normally read books with male narration, but I didn't mind being in Jende's head. I did like Neni's parts better, though, including this passage about her assumptions about the United States.
The African-Americans she saw on TV in Cameroon were happy and successful, well educated and respectable, and she'd come to believe that if they could flourish in American, surely she could, too. America gave everyone, black and white, an equal opportunity to be whatever they wished to be. Even after she'd seen the movies Boyz n the Hood and Do the Right Thing, she couldn't be swayed or convinced that the kind of black life depicted respresented anything but a very small percentage of black life, just like Americans probably understood that the images they saw of war and starvation in Africa were but a very small percentage of African life.
As if. Throughout the novel, Cameroon is equated to Africa, not even Western Africa. Cindy Clark makes her own uninformed assumption about her experience of childhood poverty vs. that of people in Africa.
Inevitably the book is rife with sociopolitics, but it's not heavy-handed, leaving the reader a lot to think about. Hence my desire to talk Behold the Dreamers over with someone.