Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is a fine “American” novel in that it is: (1) set in New York around the time of financial collapse, (2) the theme is basically about characters finding meaning in a consumerist culture without being terribly well-equipped either intellectually or artistically, and (3) the authorial or narrative stance is one of presenting the characters with empathy and good prose, but not aiming for much more.If you like that kind of novel this is for you.

I guess I am contrasting this kind of typical “American” novel with a variety of other kinds that I tend to prefer:

  • Carefully crafted tragedy (Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi)
  • Impressing with technique (Muriel Spark, Alan Garner)
  • Theme is a “significant idea” (I think of good sci-fi this way)
  • Fully immersive in character and language with interesting social structures (Rohan Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Vikram Seth A Suitable Boy, Tommy Orange, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Beppe Fenoglio, Jane Austen, Ursula LeGuin)
  • Pure entertainment (the “world building” that sci-fi fanfasy readers like, and I am partial to intellectual time-travel novels)
  • “Educational” (good historical fiction)
  • The sharp sudden twist, reveal, insight (classic of the short story)

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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