From Anonymity to Unanimity
When the frail young 17-old young lady left Limbe (formerly known as Victoria) a seaside town in the South West Region of Cameroon in 1998, her choice of study, was Business Management. Her sponsor was her aunt, and she flew off chasing the American Dream. By 2006 she had bagged an undergraduate degree from Rutgers, and a graduate degree from Colombia University New York.
Motivated to make it in the corporate world, she found a job in New York. That frail lady from Limbe, is my profile of the week. She is the novelist Imbolo Mbue.
Her story seems to confirm this quote from Cathy Freeman an Aboriginal Australian. She was an Olympic sprinter and her exploits drew attention to the plight of the Aboriginal people who had been subject to serious discrimination. She had this to say: “Disappointment and adversity can be catalysts for greatness. There is something particularly exciting about being the hunter as opposed to the hunted. And that can make for power and energy”. As soon as Imbolo ventured into the corporate sector in 2006 full of excitement and vision, something happened. The Great Recession from 2007-2008. She lost her job.
The causes of the Great Recession included a combination of vulnerabilities that developed in the financial system, along with a series of triggering events that began with the bursting of the United States housing bubble in 2005–2006. When housing prices fell and homeowners began to abandon their mortgages, the value of mortgage-backed securities held by investment banks declined in 2007–2008, causing several to collapse or be bailed out in September 2008. This 2007–2008 phase was called the subprime mortgage crisis. The combination of banks unable to provide funds to businesses, and homeowners paying down debt rather than borrowing and spending, resulted in the Great Recession that began in the U.S. officially in December 2007 and lasted until June 2009, thus extending over 19 months.
In 2014 Imbolo signed a million-dollar deal with Random House for her debut book Behold the Dreamers, which was published in 2016. The novel garnered critical acclaim for, according to NPR, the way it “depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American.” From the Imbolo’s website we have more insight of what the book is about.
“Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers, in the fall of 2007. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Jende’s wife, Neni, temporary work at their 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’ facades.
Then the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Desperate to keep Jende’s job, which grows more tenuous by the day, the Jongas try to protect the Edwardses from certain truths, even as their own marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.”
According to the Washington Post’s Ron Charles, as the book’s release coincided with the 2016 presidential election, paired with the “anti-immigrant” rhetoric that was brought to light by candidates and their supporters, the novel brought to light the “vast bureaucracy designed to wall off the American Dream from outsiders”. Then the turbo in her rise, came in the form of Oprah Winfrey otherwise Known as the Queen of the Media. Oprah selected her book for her book club in 2017. Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 is a book club founded June 1, 2012, by Oprah Winfrey in a joint project between OWN:
The Oprah Winfrey Network and O: The Oprah Magazine. The club is a re-launch of the original Oprah’s Book Club, which ran for 15 years and ended in 2011, but as the “2.0” name suggests, digital media is the new focus. It incorporates the use of various social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter) and e-readers that allow for the quoting and uploading of passages and notes for discussion, among other features.
In 2017, Imbolo was asked to contribute to the anthology, The New Daughters of Africa (edited by Margaret Busby, 2019). An international anthology of writing by women of African descent featuring about 200 writers. It includes texts from the nineteenth century to the present. The New York Times writing about the book The New Daughters of Africa says:
“Here is the book so many have been waiting for. The book to make sense of so many others….The topics are just as varied and shine bright lights on the lives of critically underrepresented women of colour, and on the contributions of these gifted literary scholars: motherhood, slavery, love, work, immigration, assimilation, friendship, thwarted aspiration, infidelity, racism, marriage, poverty, and on and on.
In fact, the only thing that is not varied here is the gloriously even quality of the writing. These are stories for crying and laughing and thinking. They are narratives for understanding, for seeking, for finding, yes, because it is a catalogue of lives that are not shown as much and as consistently as we need them to be. …It is, perhaps, this bulk, this excess, this non-superfluous surplus, this literal and literary embarrassment of riches that sends the strongest of messages. Yes, there is this much talent and achievement here in the literature of people of colour, the roots of these writers in Africa, but their immense contribution extends to every continent. It is this good. It is this great. So, how is it that it continues to be such a low percentage of all that is published, widely distributed, critiqued, discussed, taught, and shared?”
This year, Imbolo has come out with another book, “How Beautiful We Were” which according to Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend, winner of the National Book Award, “A novel with the richness and power of a great contemporary fable, and a heroine for our time.”
Imbolo’s website gives the following foretaste of her book
“We should have known the end was near”. So, begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells of a people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean-up and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interests. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle will last for decades and come at a steep price.
Told from the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold on to its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.
So it is; Imbolo has risen from someone nobody knew to a person everybody knows. In fact, from anonymity to unanimity. It is hoped that just like Cathy Freemen, Imbolo will use her universal platform to draw the attention of the world to the plight of Anglophone Cameroonians.