Pat and the Eason Book Club read: 'Behold the Dreamers'

The panellists read the debut novel by Cameroonian writer Imbolo Mbue

March’s meeting of the Eason Book Club on the Pat Kenny Show opened with a bittersweet moment. Fresh from her recent departure from waltzing up a storm on Dancing with the Stars, panellist Katherine Lynch described her experiences as “absolutely wonderful.”

“I never danced before in my life, and I actually originally turned down the gig,” Katherine said. “They actually convinced me, and I’m so happy they did. It was probably the best experience of my creative career.”

Quicker than a quickstep, the conversation moved on to this month’s book, Imbolo Mbue’s immigrant novel Behold the Dreamers. The book comes with serious pedigree, having nabbed its Cameroonian creator a million-dollar publishing deal, and going on to be named as ‘Book of the Year 2016’ by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Guardian, and NPR.

It was not to be a book of 2017 for the Eason Book Club members, all of whom enjoyed the book, but found it a rather straightforward retelling of another family on the hunt for the American Dream.

“And the American Dream becomes a nightmare,” said Brian Kennedy.

Setting the story

The novel tells the story of Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, trying to make a better life for him, his wife Neni, and their young son. With a baby girl on the way, Jende lands on his feet when, in 2007, he gets a job as a chauffeur to Clark Edwards, an affluent banker at Lehman Brothers, leading to the Cameroonian family’s first shot at gaining a foothold for a brighter future.

But when the bank collapses, triggering a global financial crisis, both families will be forced to reassess everything and make some impossible choices.

“It struck so many cords with me, as someone who did leave Belfast to live in London at 18 years old and reinvent myself and all that,” said Brian. “So I love those descriptions of them, for the very first time, seeing such a culture shock as African people. Aware that there’s racism around, aware that they’re a minority, yet they still have that real ambition.”

Katherine was struck by how timely the novel has become in light of the new US presidential administration’s approach to immigration.

“Trump should read it, he really should read it,” she said. “It would give anyone huge empathy for anyone who’s struggling with the bureaucracy of the paperwork to become a resident or even capable of working in a country.”

A second opinion

On the line was Noreen Buckley, whose Stillorgan-based Chapters & Chats book club was formed 15 months ago. Uniting seven women, described as “ladies of a certain age,” Noreen said they agreed with the panel.

“We found it a very enjoyable read, we rated it 8/10,” she said.

“We’re you’re first reading it, the story is familiar, you know, the American dream. People coming to fulfil their dream in America, thinking it will all happen. That is very familiar and it is an easy read. But we found the more we talked about that we realised that there’s quite a lot in it. Yes, it is a poolside read, but there’s a little more to it.”

Mary O’Rourke will choose April’s Eason Book Club read, picking from one of the four following titles: Larchfield by Polly Clark, The Doctor’s Wife is Dead by Andrew Tierney, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, and Ithaca by Alan McMonagle. Tune in next week or check the website to see what book she selects.

You can listen back to this month’s Eason Book Club segment in the podcast below:

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