Three people’s lives intersect in a tumultuous yet redeeming way that none of them could have ever predicted. Jenny is a young professional from the South with an upbringing she wants to forget. She meets Roshan, an Indian immigrant who has moved to the United States with his mother, Esha, to escape family ghosts. With strong cultural tradition, Esha has devoted her entire life to her only child, both for his own good and for her personal protection from a painful past. Roshan understands his role as his mother’s refuge, and from an early age, he commits himself to caring for her. But when Jenny and Roshan embark on a forbidden, intercultural relationship, all three get tangled into an inseparable web—betrayal, violence, and shame—leaving them forced to make choices about love and family they never wanted to make while finding peace where they never expected to look.
I loved this story, enjoyed following each character as they fought their own personal battles and learned a lot about Indian culture and tradition along the way! Roshan and Jenny have a unique friendship that grows into more but they resist the temptation to commit, he due to his Indian background, customs and parental influences, and she due to her fear of abandonment, and her difficult upbringing surrounded by poverty and addiction. After fighting the attraction, going their separate ways and living their lives apart for a decade, they come together and are faced with the same obstacles and more. As author Sheryl Parbhoo shows us in The Unexpected Daughter, it is impossible to escape our formative years, good or bad; it is a part of who we are and how we live in this world. What we can do is make good decisions for ourselves, embrace opportunities, live authentically and love with an open heart.
One of my favorite types of books is a story of immigration, assimilation and the mixing of cultures. The Unexpected Daughter delivers all of that so well as the backdrop with a rollercoaster ride of a story of a modern multicultural family as they come to terms with their past and grow together, navigating love, loyalty, addiction, ambition, death, birth and celebration….Life. A wonderful debut!
Sheryl Parbhoo is an author, blogger, educator, and mother of five. A native southerner, her interest in the intricacies of human culture led to a BA in Anthropology from the University of Memphis. Her longing for the spice of life culminated when she married her high school sweetheart, a South African Indian immigrant, and became a stay-at-home mom to their five children for over 20 years. After diligent, dedicated PTA and Room Mom duties, she earned a BS in Education from Kennesaw State University, becoming an ESOL teacher, focusing on immigrant students from Mexico and Guatemala.
Sheryl is known worldwide for her blog, Southern Life Indian Wife, where for four years she has shared stories from her spicy masala/southern cornbread way of life raising her large multicultural family and navigating the quirks of Southern and Indian in-law relationships. These, along with the responses received from readers, are the real-life inspirations for her novel, The Unexpected Daughter.
On sherylparbhoo.com, Sheryl shares her love of writing and personal experiences as a writer. She has been a featured contributor for Masalamommas.com, Twins Magazine, among others. She and her family’s blended cultural traditions have been highlighted on PBSNewshour.com, as well as on various online sites.
Loved Behold the Dreamers, this debut novel by Imbolo Mbue! Jende and Neni, from Cameroon, are striving to achieve the American Dream. They have an apartment in Harlem, Jende is working hard as a cab driver, and Neni is studying long hours, and they struggle to prosper while raising their 6 year old son. They have high hopes and aspirations, and with good energy and a positive outlook, they work together toward their goals.
Clark and Cindy Edwards are American, rich and live a lavish lifestyle. Clark, a Lehman Brother’s executive, hires Jende to be his personal chauffeur. The men become close and Clark expects Jende’s loyalty. Cindy hires Neni to help around the house and she confides in her some personal secrets.
Despite the Edwards’ monetary success, their lives are filled with pain and despair, as they desperately try to maintain their wealth and prosperity during the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a financially devastating crisis in 2008. The Cameroon couple find themselves with competing loyalties toward their respective employers as all their lives take a downward turn; the Edwards have financial and marital issues while Jende and Neni face immigration challenges. The two couples organically provide each other with help and support as Imbolo Mbue skillfully presents the situations and challenges of the poor immigrants vs the wealthy Americans for us to compare and contrast.
Behold the Dreamers give us valuable insight into the immigrant struggle, the perseverance and strength it takes to settle in another country, and the breaking point when home may be calling, wherever that may be. I loved the characters, their depth and their relationships with each other. A thoughtful, timely, and fast paced read, this is Oprah’s latest book club pick!
As stated in Goodreads:
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.
When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.
About the Author:
Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon. She holds a B.S. from Rutgers University and an M.A. from Columbia University. A resident of the United States for over a decade, she lives in New York City. BEHOLD THE DREAMERS is her first novel.
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.
Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.
First I have to comment on Mohsin Hamid’s unbelievably beautiful, descriptive and unusual prose. He has a special way of painting a picture with words in a sing song way with paragraphs that are a single sentence, multiple phrases connected with commas. I found myself reading a lot of the book out loud to comprehend more deeply and to experience the exceptional use of language auditorily.
This is a story of love, strength and adventure with what I see as a touch of fantasy. In Exit West, Nadia, a mysterious, strong, hard working, single woman living on her own and Saeed, “an independent-minded, grown man, unmarried, with a decent post and a good education”, living with his parents met and developed a relationship. Violent times pushed them to seek safety and pursue a life of peace. They learn of mysterious doors people can walk through to escape the unrest in their own country and enter into a new, unknown environment. (For me, the doors are symbolic, they take the place of the physical journey as immigrants travel to a new country, so the focus can be on the emotion journey and the assimilation upon arrival.) We follow Nadia and Saeed though the doors as their relationship changes while they explore new places.
Author Mohsin Hamid uses his words to describe the action in the story but has a descriptive way of getting at the deeper meaning. In this excerpt we can visualize what happens but also can see the breaking down of a relationship.
“In the late afternoon, Saeed went to the top of the hill, and Nadia went to the top of the hill, and there they gazed out over the island, and out to sea, and he stood beside where she stood, and she stood beside where he stood, and the wind tugged and pushed at their hair, and they looked around at each other, but they did not see each other, for she went up before him, and he went up after her, and they were each at the crest of the hill only briefly, and at different times.”
Saeed’s and Nadia’s struggle is representative of many who have left their home looking for a new place to settle. Uprooting seems to test them in many ways, their ties to home, their faith, traditions and memories, their ability to assimilate and their commitment to each other. Hamid brings to light a discussion of who belongs; natives, migrants…are we all immigrants in a sense?
There is so much to discuss about the characters, the exquisite writing, the emotional and physical challenges of leaving one’s country and settling in a new place. I loved this novel…such a great choice for book club!
Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani author best known for his novels Moth Smoke (2000), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013). His fiction has been translated into over 30 languages, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, featured on bestseller lists, and adapted for the cinema. His short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review, and his essays in the Guardian, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. Born in 1971, he has lived about half his life, on and off, in Lahore. He also spent part of his early childhood in California, attended Princeton and Harvard, and worked for a decade as a management consultant in New York and London, mostly part-time.