Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Imbolo Mbue

Imbolo Mbue immigrated to the United States from her native Cameroon in the late-1990s in pursuit of a better education. She enrolled at Rutgers University, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in business administration. She later received a Master’s in education from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University. After earning her advanced degree, Mbue landed a job working in market research at a media company in New York City. In 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, Mbue lost her job. Around this time, the seeds of her debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, were planted. While walking past the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, she observed that there were numerous black chauffeurs waiting for their white employers, who were usually executives. Though Mbue had no professional background in writing and had only dabbled in the craft, she started work on a novel around this time, based on this initial observation. Behold the Dreamers earned Mbue a seven-figure advance and was an instant hit. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post named it one of the most notable books of 2016, and NPR declared it one of the best books of the year. The novel won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was selected in 2017 for Oprah Winfrey’s famed Book Club. It has been translated into twelve languages and adapted into an opera. Book-It Repertory Theater is turning the novel into a stage play, and the work has also been optioned for a film. Mbue currently resides in New York City.
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Historical Context of Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers takes place between 2006 and 2008 and chronicles the eve and the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, when the subprime mortgage bubble finally burst. Subprime mortgages—that is, mortgages lent to borrowers with lower credit ratings—have been identified as the leading cause of the massive recession that impacted not only the United States, but the global economy from 2007 to 2010. Barack Obama was also elected president in 2008. The son of a Kenyan immigrant and a white woman from Kansas, he became the first black man ever to hold the office. President Obama’s election, which was characterized by its uplifting message of “hope and change,” offered Americans a respite from the miseries inflicted by an unregulated finance industry, such as record foreclosures and high rates of unemployment.

Other Books Related to Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers is one of numerous recent works that has attempted to grapple with the moral meaning of the 2008 financial crisis. Jay McInerney, one of the best-known chroniclers of Manhattan’s upper-class, published Bright, Precious Days (2016), the third book in his Calloway trilogy, in the same year in which Behold the Dreamers was released. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest deals with a group of siblings’ over-reliance on a promised inheritance to solve an array of financial problems. Mbue’s work also stands alongside numerous novels that deal specifically with the experiences of Africans in the West, particularly in the United States. Such works include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013) and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (2016).
Key Facts about Behold the Dreamers
  • Full Title: Behold the Dreamers: A Novel
  • When Written: 2008-2015
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 2016
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Contemporary Realism
  • Setting: Manhattan, New York; Southampton, Long Island; Limbe, Cameroon
  • Climax: Lehman Brothers collapses
  • Antagonist: Greed; the American Dream
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Behold the Dreamers

Lehman Brothers. On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers—the fourth-largest investment bank in the U.S—filed for bankruptcy. Its loss of over six hundred billion dollars in assets makes it the largest bankruptcy ever filed in American history. Lehman’s collapse was due to the firm’s large investment in mortgage securities, causing it to suffer from the housing market crash. The firm is still in the process of dissolving, as it works to settle lawsuits and outstanding claims.

President Paul Biya. While recalling a friend’s bogus story, designed to help him gain political asylum, Winston mentions President Paul Biya, who has held office in Cameroon since November 6, 1982. Biya won his seventh term in office on October 22, 2018 in an election in which only half of the voting-age population took part. At eighty-five, Biya is the oldest leader in sub-Saharan Africa.