Imbolo Mbue Behold the Dreamers

Last updated date: October 21, 2019

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Imbolo Mbue Behold the Dreamers

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We looked at the top Oprah Book Club Books and dug through the reviews from some of the most popular review sites. Through this analysis, we've determined the best Oprah Book Club Book you should buy.

Update as November 4, 2019:
Checkout The Best Oprah Book Club Book for a detailed review of all the top oprah book club books.

Overall Take

In our analysis of 121 expert reviews, the Imbolo Mbue Behold the Dreamers placed 8th when we looked at the top 10 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

From The Manufacturer

A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy New York Times Bestseller • Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award • Longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award • An ALA Notable Book NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • The New York Times Book Review • San Francisco Chronicle • The Guardian • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Chicago Public Library • BookPage • Refinery29 • Kirkus Reviews 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 the Edwardses’ 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’ façades. When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice. Praise for Behold the Dreamers “A debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller.”—The Washington Post “A capacious, big-hearted novel.”—The New York Times Book Review “Behold the Dreamers’ heart . . . belongs to the struggles and small triumphs of the Jongas, which Mbue traces in clean, quick-moving paragraphs.”—Entertainment Weekly “Mbue’s writing is warm and captivating.”—People (book of the week) “[Mbue’s] book isn’t the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, but it’s surely one of the best. . . . It’s a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American.”—NPR “This story is one that needs to be told.”—Bust “Behold the Dreamers challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred.”—O: The Oprah Magazine “[A] beautiful, empathetic novel.”—The Boston Globe “A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch “Mbue [is] a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . [Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts.”—

Expert Reviews

Expert Summarized Score

23 expert reviews

User Summarized Score

1,410 user reviews

What experts liked

Absolutely gorgeous and affecting book about an immigrant family trying to make their way in NY in 2008, just as the financial markets are on the cusp of imploding. I loved that the author picked this time period. It increased the sense of dread and also allowed for interesting comparisons and startling contrasts between two people of vastly different backgrounds who are experiencing the same huge economic/social change.
- Good Reads
Oprah says of this one that it “has all the dynamics, heart and soul, of family, connection, what it really means to know what home is. It has drama. It has great antagonists and protagonists…it has all the elements for a read that allows you take your mind and thoughts and what it means to be a certain kind of person in the world.”
- BookRiot
August 22, 2019 | Full review
"It's about race and class, the economy, culture, immigration, and the dangers of the us versus them mentality. And underneath it all pumps the heart and soul of family love, the pursuit of happiness, and what home really means," Oprah shared in June 2017.
- The Oprah Magazine
September 23, 2019 | Full review
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream, Behold the Dreamers is the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy.
- Spy
February 20, 2019 | Full review
Mbue’s prose is mostly straightforward and unadorned but her characters are complex, with contradictory motivations, which provide the story with depth and quiet power.
- The Guardian
August 4, 2017 | Full review
Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller, inflecting her own voice with the tenor of her characters’ thoughts and speech. She can enjoy the comedy of their naivete without subjecting them to mockery, and this sweet, sweaty-palmed opening immediately enlists our sympathies.
- The Washington Post
August 17, 2016 | Full review
Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.
- Kirkus Reviews
April 13, 2016 | Full review
A debut worth reading, a story that demands to be told, from a perspective that is often wrongfully ignored.
- The Masters Review
August 23, 2016 | Full review
There are sections in this book that speak to my heart, passages that made me think oh wow, this writer knows me.
- Atlantic Rock
April 29, 2018 | Full review
The ending of this novel felt realistic and made me appreciate Jende’s character evolution – flaws and all. Strikes up conversation around immigration, identity and the need for African countries to better cater to their citizens (instead of us relying on living in Western nations to fulfill our dreams).
- African Book Addict
September 11, 2017 | Full review
Mbue's main talent is her ability to bring her characters to life. I absolutely fell in love with Jende and his wife; the optimism with which the author infuses these characters is infectious.
- Book Browse
June 1, 2017 | Full review
No matter your politics, this beautiful novel about an African family starting a new life in a new land offers tremendous insight into people who still come to our shores in search of the American dream.
- Book Page
September 1, 2016 | Full review
A powerful book that explores themes of immigration, race and class and the agony and the anguish that comes with uprooting one’s life in the hope of a better one. A beautiful and poignant tale with rich prose and characters that tells the ultimate story about sacrifice and surrender.
- The Literary Edit
September 3, 2017 | Full review
Immigration troubles, Lehman’s collapse, and the recession descend, as expected, but the plot takes a series of surprising turns, and character nuances emerge. All four are united by their passionate desire for their children’s happiness, which, of course, is at the heart of the American Dream.
- The Boston Globe
August 18, 2016 | Full review
Even as Behold the Dreamers takes some dark, vicious turns, it never feels cheaply cynical, grounded as it is in the problems of well-imagined characters who try, through whatever means possible, to protect their families and better their lives.
- USA Today
August 27, 2016 | Full review
A daring book that is carefully written, you can feel Mbue’s empathy , sometimes pity, for her characters. Generally it’s an irresistible and beautiful read with so many elements of our daily life that makes it very relatable.
- Tales of a Curious mind
February 19, 2018 | Full review
One of the gifts of “Behold the Dreamers” is the love and sympathy with which Mbue shapes her characters.
- St. Louis Today
August 20, 2016 | Full review
Mbue’s meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts, plumbing the desires and disappointments of our emerging global culture.
- Star Tribune
August 19, 2016 | Full review
Mbue skillfully moves between cultures, revealing how faraway Cameroon is never truly left behind. Linguistically she moves between cultures, too, with a deftness I quite admired.
- Bookin With Sunny
Imbolo Mbue lavishes compassion and a keen intelligence on the Jongas of Central African Cameroon and the Edwardses of upscale Manhattan, the “dreamers” of her commanding debut novel.
- Newsday
August 22, 2016 | Full review
Captured me from the very first chapter. Wow, did it impress for the first half.
- Book Spoils
August 3, 2016 | Full review
The beauty of this book is that its complexities of plot are told in simple language and vivid scenes that immediately draw the reader into the story. It quickly becomes a page turner of increasing drama. By the end, one is left breathlessly waiting for the final denouement, which to Mbue’s credit, is not predictable.
- New York Journal of Books
This book is well-rounded and human. There was humor and anger and love and family and fighting and singing. Every character is well-rounded, good, and very, very flawed. This book was an incredible read and stands above many books I’ve read in a long time.
- Foghorn Review

What experts didn't like

I am a reader who prefers description and character development over plot. Unfortunately, the writing is very flat, the story never gets going and it's message was lost in artificiality. Every time the I thought the story would pick up it fell away again. Overall, I was very disappointed.
- Good Reads
Sometimes, the pace becomes sluggish.
- The Guardian
August 4, 2017 | Full review
If you are looking for a literary masterpiece, well keep it moving.
- Atlantic Rock
April 29, 2018 | Full review
I disliked how Mbue perpetuates our self-hate through the characterization of Jende and (mostly) Neni.
- African Book Addict
September 11, 2017 | Full review
The characters' situations and attitudes during the first two-thirds of the book lack depth.
- Book Browse
June 1, 2017 | Full review
The occasionally choppy plot, as well as the depiction of a wealthy Manhattan couple with problems straight from central casting.
- Book Page
September 1, 2016 | Full review
The novel occasionally loses momentum as it moves from one domestic squabble to another, bleeding out drama. In this respect, “Behold the Dreamers” might have worked better as a novella or short story
- Star Tribune
August 19, 2016 | Full review
A number of problematic behaviours and flaws while unraveling their story.
- Book Spoils
August 3, 2016 | Full review

An Overview On Oprah Book Club Books

Reading more books is a common personal goal, but it’s tough to accomplish without some good recommendations. In 1996, Oprah Winfrey decided that it was time to give her viewers some much-needed guidance on their next book choice.

Oprah’s Book Club started off as a new segment in Oprah’s hit daily talk show. She’d choose one book per month (usually a novel) for her viewers to devour and discuss. The segment was a massive hit, and Oprah’s power in the publishing world remains unsurpassed. One expert estimated that a recommendation by Oprah increased a book’s sales by 20 to 100 times the normal rate. 

During the club’s initial 15-year run, Oprah selected 70 books. They ranged from older classics, like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” to indie titles like Breena Clarke’s “River, Cross My Heart” and Tawni O’Dell’s “Back Roads.”

Oprah shuttered her original book club in 2011, but revived it in 2012 as an online version called Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Even with her long record of excellent recommendations, it might still be tricky to find an amazing book that works for you.

If it’s been a while since you last sat down with a book and you want to get the most for your money, take a hint from Socrates: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Your own interests and life experiences will dictate which books you’re drawn to and which ones you set down after the first chapter.

Do you have children who are growing into young adults (or are you reminiscing about your own adolescence)? A coming-of-age tale among Oprah’s picks might be a good fit for your bedside table. Interested in exploring your family’s roots? Look for a novel featuring people with your background set hundreds of years ago. Itching for a story from a powerful writer? Check out the Classics section on Amazon and immerse yourself in a legendary book. 

Of course, writing and reading are meant to build bridges. You’ll miss out if you only select stories that directly relate to your current or past experiences. Look for Oprah’s Book Club selections by authors from a different race, ethnicity or socioeconomic class to expand your horizons. Stories that you couldn’t even imagine experiencing will open your mind and create empathy for a broader, more inclusive look at the world.

Now that you have an overview of what Oprah’s Book Club was all about (plus some general book-choosing guidelines), trek on over to our Tips & Advice for more detailed information.

The Oprah Book Club Book Buying Guide

  • Making room in your life for more reading is admirable, but life doesn’t always want to cooperate. Take a realistic look at how much free time you have before you invest in a 500-page novel. It’s better on your psyche (and your wallet) if you choose a shorter book that you actually have time to complete.
  • That being said, a book’s physical length isn’t always the best indicator of how much time you’ll have to devote to reading it. Short books with complex language, difficult vocabulary and challenging themes can take much longer to read than lengthy books with shorter sentences and quicker action. You can get a sense of a book’s difficulty from the free, short samples that Amazon provides for most of its books.
  • A great book combines a riveting plot with deep, well-developed characters, but many stories lean more heavily on one of those components than the other. Books that are more driven by plot usually (but not always) move a little faster as you read them. Books that lean on character development and move forward by drawing you into the fold of a character’s mind might seem a bit slower. Many readers prefer one over the other, but both types of literature become riveting in the hands of a deft author.
  • Oprah’s recommendations are meant for adults, so the language and themes might not be appropriate for younger readers. If you’ve got kids in the house, give them age-appropriate books so you can bond over reading without exposing them to a book they’re not ready for. 
  • To ebook or not to ebook? That’s the eternal question of the digital age. Choosing an Oprah’s Book Club title in ebook form has a lot of benefits. You can tote it around with your entire library of books in one slim e-reader, so it’s much easier to take with you while traveling. It won’t take up tons of space in your home either — that’s a relief for anyone who’s tried to pack and move shelves full of books. You’ll also save some paper by forgoing a traditional book. However, you might want to go for a physical copy if you have a job that requires staring at a screen all day. Your eyes get tired without a break from screens, and you’ll do your vision a favor by reading a paper book. Traditional books also look lovely in your home.