Mbue’s narrative energy and sympathetic eye soon render these commonplace ingredients vivid, complex, and essential ... though her black characters provide practical and emotional succor to her white ones, especially as the two families further entwine, professionally and personally, she also effectively and pointedly keeps them at the center of the story, a narrative accomplishment too many white authors are still unable to achieve ... [a] beautiful, empathetic novel.
...illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse ...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 ... There’s a persistent warmth in this book, a species of faith that’s too often singed away by wit in contemporary fiction. For all its comedy, Mbue’s social commentary never develops that toxic level of irony.
Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth, effortlessly inhabiting the minds of both Jende and his wife ... There are a lot of spinning plates, and Mbue balances them skillfully, keeping everything in motion ... And yet, while the novel’s setup is rich with possibility, Mbue doesn’t always make the most of it ... Even so, Behold the Dreamers is a capacious, big-hearted novel.
Her 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 ... Behold the Dreamers is, at times, hard to read — not because of her writing, which is excellent, but because the characters keep getting hit, over and over again, by horrible circumstances beyond their control ... a remarkable debut.
The eloquent beauty of Behold the Dreamers lies in the steady revelation of its characters’ behavior under duress. Mbue makes their most ethically compromised actions understandable ... Mbue doesn’t let her dreamers off the hook. Far from it. Nor does she ridicule their deepest hopes.
If the book ultimately falls short of the emotional impact its sweeping premise and seven-figure advance portend, it’s still a fresh, engaging entry in the eternally evolving narrative of what it means to be an American—and how human beings, not laws or dogma, define liberty.
Mbue’s fluent prose captures the aspirations and flaws of both couples, trapped on opposing sides of the darkening American dream, each character staring into a chasm below ... 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. But Mbue’s meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts.
I’ve heard this immigrant story before, but I never knew it could be told so nicely ... Mbue, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cameroon a decade ago, writes with authenticity and a subtle authority. Her white and black characters are equally empathetic, equally imperfect ... Although the tale isn’t earth-shatteringly original, the telling feels fresh, the characters charismatic. Behold the Dreamers is a quietly absorbing, compulsively readable.
...a poignant and bittersweet debut novel ... thanks to the author’s nuanced and sympathetic approach to family portraiture, the troubled Edwardses are not made to serve as an insufferable upper-class foil for the story’s toiling immigrant protagonists ... Behold the Dreamers suffers from a dearth of action, the Wall Street crash qualifying as the only exception, albeit one relegated to the background. Mbue partially compensates for this deficit by injecting the story with generous doses of suspense.
One of the gifts of Behold the Dreamers is the love and sympathy with which Mbue shapes her characters. From a lesser writer, Clark and Cindy too easily could be made caricatures, Jende and Neni martyrs. Each character’s convictions and grievances, however misguided or extreme, are deeply rooted in their experiences of money and success ... a witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess. In her debut novel, Mbue has crafted a compelling view of 21st-century America.
Mbue’s novel is also a distinctly New York story, and in her descriptions of the life of the city, the prose grows luminous ... Mbue handles American’s racial landscape deftly ... That aspects of the Edwards family feel a bit stock is a slight weakness...But the Jonga family is rich and engaging in the complexity of the characters.
...a fast-paced, character-driven read that, while not always entirely credible, is certainly unpredictable in the way it moves toward its outcome. It also vividly evokes a period — the crash of 2008 and the start of Obama’s presidency in 2009 — that feels more distant than a mere eight years ago ... Mbue’s outsider’s perceptions of American life — its stresses, its excesses — are sharp. Her humor can be tasty, too ... Mbue sometimes strays into melodrama or over-explanation, but she also keeps crucial plot-points slyly ambiguous.
So charged has the word 'migrant' become that I hesitate to call Imbolo Mbue’s impressive debut a migrant novel; yet all the ingredients are there ... This is not a story of noble immigrants versus the evil banking class: Mbue is too skilful for that ... Both Jende and Neni rejoice in the consumerism of America and grasp at all that capitalism has to offer ... Sometimes, the pace becomes sluggish as yet another set piece scene of cultural exchange occurs ... 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.
In Behold the Dreamers, Jende and Neni Jonga’s approach to the new world in which they find themselves—they’re a little skeptical, and very curious—offers a fresh perspective on the excesses of the pre-crash one percent ... If Mbue sometimes strays into homiletic territory with her protagonists, she also deftly parodies the natives.
The money-hungry versions of Jende and Neni might not have repelled so sharply if Mbue had portrayed their contradictions from the start, if they had evolved as complicated characters over the course of the story. Instead, she has them spew clichés about dreams and opportunities, she puts masks on them to make them likeable, then strips them off to show the desperate man and woman underneath. By withholding our access to the real identities of Jende and Neni for so long, Mbue disguises the truth about them—how poverty, or the dread of it, can warp people—denying us the very reason for which we read.