Sorry for the delayed post, lovelies! The hubs and I have been busy with our cross-country move down to Georgia in between friends’ weddings and family vacations, and it has been more than a little chaotic, to say the least…
Of course, I still have my priorities, and my books were the first boxes to be unpacked! (they also were the most numerous of boxes, even with my tendency to hoard clothes)
We’re also about to embark on another trip, this time to Hungary and Austria (goulash, pastries, and wine, hurrah!), so I’ve been practicing my packing game to maximize suitcase space (more on that in another post). Despite all the chaos currently going on in my domestic life, I still carved out time for a little readin’ and reviewin’. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Release Date: August 23, 2016 (out now!)
*Note: I was graciously given an e-galley from RandomHouse and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*
What’s it All About?
A Cameroonian family attempting to achieve the American Dream by working for a Wall Street Family in the fall of 2007. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Jende Jonge, the family patriarch, lucks out as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a head executive of the Lehman Brothers. His wife works while also studying to become a pharmacist, and his young son works hard in school to receive good grades. All of this effort is compounded with the family’s attempts to assimilate with American culture and customs.
The first half of the book makes it seem like the Jonge family is leading an almost-charmed life, but as we know, the other shoe will soon fall.
The Nitty Gritty
This debut has gotten a lot of buzz for its comparisons to Americanah and Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories, and I would agree with that comparison (at least plot-wise).
My favorite part of the story was the Jonge family’s sense of humor, especially in the first half of the novel. Every new chapter brought at least one smirk or soft laugh in the passages, and I loved the idea of the author writing certain paragraphs tongue-in-cheek.
I was completely enchanted for the first half of the novel; of course, no one likes it when bad things happen to characters you love, so when the crash of 2008 started to unfold in the book I began to groan a bit. I also didn’t love the reaction and changes the characters underwent after bad luck started to befall them; however, even though some of it was hard to read, I do think it was necessary and lent an accuracy to a story that is often tied up too neatly in novels.
A fascinating aspect of this book to me was seeing America through an immigrant’s eyes. From Jende’s perspective, America (initially) is practically Utopia. He glorifies everything from the New York skyscrapers to the dirty streets to the hot dog vendors. Although his wife, Neni, seems to always have a slightly more realistic eye, both of them see the glitz and glamour from their employers and dream of carving out at least a portion of that glitter for themselves. As an American who takes for granted most of our freedoms, it was an eye opening read. (There’s also a great article discussing how timely an immigrant experience novel is right now for our country)
The disillusionment the Jonga family is absolutely heartbreaking to read, but also necessary and important to understand. Their re-evaluation of the American Dream is a common event in my culture, especially during an election cycle where xenophobia is a front-page issue. This book will get lots of buzz in the coming months merely for the subject matter. It doesn’t hurt that Mbue is deft at satirizing the 1% without coming across as condescending – she understands and expresses the true problems even rich WASPs grapple with, despite their luck and fortune.
Just Gimme the Verdict: Slay or Nay?
Slay. Occasionally the writing feels a little superficial with characterizations, but overall the story is gripping and nuanced and REAL. Check it out.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
See you next post, dear readers…this time in EUROPE!