Jende Jonga and his wife Neni are a hardworking Cameroonian couple eking out a living in Harlem. Jende, an undocumented immigrant, earns money driving a livery cab, and Neni, in the country on a student visa, works in domestic services while pursuing her college education. Though their days are filled with low-wage labor, and their living conditions are meager, Jende and Neni strive to make the best of their situation, in hope of a better future for themselves and their young son.
In the fall of 2007, the family’s life takes a turn in an exciting direction when Jende gets a job as the full-time chauffeur for the family of Clark Edwards, a well-to-do Wall Street executive. The job provides Jende with a significant salary increase and proximity to what he believes is the best of what America has to offer: success, money, and status. With this change in fortune, Jende and Neni feel the attainment of their own American Dream closer within their reach. Unaware of the impending demise of Clark’s employer, the global investment banking firm Lehman Brothers, which is about to file the largest bankruptcy in American history, Jende and Neni can only see the brightening of their future. As the Jongas become more involved in the Edwardses’ lives, Imbue paints a realistic portrait of each family, juxtaposing the worlds of the haves and the have nots, while revealing the cracks in each household.
Through the characters Jende and Neni, I experienced daily life from the perspective of someone living in fear of being removed from the country. Imbue develops multi dimensions to the Jonga and Edwards characters, and I found myself, at turns, empathizing for them and then shaking my head at their actions. Most of all, I appreciated the insight Jende and Neni’s story gave me into the immigrant experience. I felt their deep longing to obtain citizenship and gain access to the things American-born citizens such as myself often take for granted.
Original Publisher: Random House (USA)
Publication Year: 2016
Imbolo Mbue’s website: https://www.imbolombue.com/