Behold the Dreamers is a story told in the midst of America’s financial crisis, with the downfall of long established financial institutions, and the consequent ripples felt throughout our economy and society brought to life through the eyes of a Cameroon driver, literally at the steering wheel of this changing American moment.
At its center are questions about who we are, who we become in this quest to achieve “The American Dream”. Those are questions for people who are American citizens, as well as those who are in pursuit of that dream of becoming an American. As these complex characters unfold before us, living out their destinies, one word is emergent: empathy. People’s lives are not what they seem. Each of us has challenges and circumstances that form and shape the nature of how we live our lives. This is what reading can do: enlarge our worlds to walk in another’s shoes. To understand because we can see the world a little differently through the pages of a book. This is what literature does.
“My responsibility, my duty, as a writer is to be honest. To be authentic,” says author Imbolo Mbue, a native of Cameroon, remarking on this rather extraordinary journey with her debut novel, winning the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, then receiving the call that was life changing: Oprah Winfrey’s voice on the phone saying, “Congratulations on winning the PEN/Faulkner,” telling Imbolo that Behold the Dreamers would be her next Book Club Pick. “Between PEN/Faulkner and Oprah Winfrey, the book got a lot more exposure and it was a sort of encouragement to me, to continue on my authentic path, as writer and as a human.”
“The novel was based on what I’ve seen and heard and lived through,” Mbue continued. “It was me telling it as I know it. Not camouflaging, or writing to suit any sort of agenda. I am not beholden to that. My duty is to the story.” Mbue holds hope for what books can do. “Literature opened my eyes to the world in a unique way, and I believe in its power. You read something and your eyes are opened to the world around you in a way you hadn’t seen before. Once you discover something new, then a whole new perspective opens, a perspective you may have never considered. Then you know better. And hopefully you’ll do things differently.”
Her writing resonates; this story holds. Now translated into 12 languages and published around the world, and just optioned for a feature film, Behold the Dreamers is picking up legs and running. If every book is a window that opens to allow someone to fly, Behold the Dreamers reminds us that dreams can take shape and change direction. We still can dream.
Imbolo Mbue will be a featured writer at the Nantucket Book Festival, both on Opening Night, Friday, June 15 at 7:00pm at the Unitarian Meeting House, and with another event on Saturday, June 16 at the Nantucket Atheneum Great Hall at 10:00am.