What do you get when you put an immigrant couple who think the USA is the best thing after sliced bread, a rich American couple who seem to have achieved the American dream, some puff-puff and fried plantain in the city that never sleeps? A fascinating debut novel about marriage, class, race, the immigrant struggle and the pursuit of happiness.
This novel takes us on a journey with Jenge, a Cameroonian man trying to swindle his way to an American green card, and his wife Neni who is determined to finish her education and become a Pharmacist. These two start out with so much hope in this story, America is the best country in the world and they are excited about their future as citizens of the greatest civilization in the world. Things are looking up as Jenge lands a job as a chauffeur to Wall Street executive, Clark. That is until he is informed that his application for asylum in the US has been denied. This is reasonable, given that the only thing pursuing him is poverty and hunger. As if things couldn’t get worse, Wall Street collapses and an economic recession hits. This leads Jenge and his family down a path where they have to decide if their home is really so terrible after all.
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “Charming”. The prose is so smooth, the story so engaging and the main characters, especially Jenge, are so adorable, you can’t help putting in some emotional investment. Which is also why, I was disappointed in the person his obsession to get papers and subsequent failure to do so turned him into in the end.
I strongly resent how Jenge forced his final decision on Neni without even a consideration for her own dreams and desires. I wish the patriarchy wasn’t so real in this book but this is the world we live in, even if I like to pretend it isn’t so.
Honestly, part of me wishes she had gone ahead with her harebrained immigration scam, even if it was ridiculous and a little dangerous. In fact, I was rooting for a divorce (don’t judge me), which I was sure was imminent. It didn’t happen. Which makes me question what the Author’s agenda was with all the angst. Unless there was no agenda, sadly this is the reality of many women in our society today. When Daddy fill-in-the-blank says jump, you ask how high. Asking intelligent questions is unAfrican and if you make that mistake and get beaten to a pulp as a result, you can’t call the police ‘cos it’s a family matter.
Honestly, when I take things like this into consideration, I start to wonder if this marriage idea is even worth the trouble but I digress.
In spite of this book upsetting my feminist sensibilities, I still enjoyed it. Even with a somewhat serious subject matter, it is a fun book. I loved how the Author captured the voices of Africans, even more because Cameroon is practically Nigeria, except they speak French. Okay, maybe not but I’m famzing them anyways.
Have you read this book? Fell free to share your thoughts in the comments.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Harper Collins UK in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Published by: Harper Collins UK, 4th Estate.
Date of Publication: August 23, 2016
Genre: Literary Fiction