The 2018 Committee

Carrie Allmendinger, Webmaster (Historic Huguenot Street)
Fran Arecy (Student, SUNY New Paltz)
Joanna Arkans (New Paltz High School)
Gerald Benjamin, Committee Founder (The Benjamin Center, SUNY New Paltz)
Sue Books (Department of Teaching & Learning, SUNY New Paltz)
Wendy Bower (Department of Communication Disorders, SUNY New Paltz)
Mark Colvson (Sojourner Truth Library, SUNY New Paltz)
John Giralico (Elting Memorial Library)
Robin Jacobowitz (The Benjamin Center, SUNY New Paltz)
Shelley Sherman (New Paltz Community Member)
Myra Sorin (New Paltz Community Member)
Bruce Weisner (New Paltz Community Member)
Linda Welles (Elting Memorial Library)

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Discussion Questions from Oprah’s Book Club


Download here.

1. Immigration plays a huge role in this novel. For the Jongas, America is a place of hope and promise, a “place where you can become somebody,” but the machine and policies are anything but welcoming and clear and the road to citizenship is jagged. Discuss the portrayal of the American immigration in this novel. How does this shift the traditional representation of America?

2. In Jende’s job as a driver for the Edwards family, he often transcends the boundaries between their public personas and their private lives. Behind the safety of a closed car door, the Edwards show their truest selves and Jende is often a silent witness to much of what they would not show to the world: marital issues, the crumbling of Lehman Brothers, infidelity, family arguments. How does this impact Jende’s understanding of this family? How does it inform our interpretations?

3. Though both the Edwards and the Jongas have their own individual worries, so much of what concerns both of these couples is the well-being and success of their children. Discuss the parenting styles that the Edwards and the Jongas utilize. How are they similar? How do they differ? Why do we place so much weight on the raising of children? How can our own pathways in life lead the way we direct our children? How do our parents impact our view of the world and futures?

4. On the surface, it would seem that Cindy and Neni are two extremely different women. Cindy, in particular, is a conflicted person: sometimes ignorant, conniving, self-centered. However, it soon becomes clear that, in their own ways, Cindy and Neni are bonded, both women struggling to understand their roles as wives and women, and as the novel progresses, their identities seem to merge. How else are they similar? How are they different? What do they learn from one another?

5. Discuss the character of Vince Edwards. What do you make of his relationship to his family and his thoughts about his country? How do his opinions play a larger role in the novel? What do you think is in store for him in India?

6. Though they moved to America to find better life as a couple and as a family, both Jende and Neni are inevitably impacted by the way America shapes their own personal identities. What are some of the ways in which they change as individuals over the course of the novel? How does their marriage change? Do you feel this is for the better or worse? How does it speak largely to the way America’s ideals impact the members of its society?

7. Discuss the role of dreams in the novel. How do dreams drive the plot of the novel? What kind of dreams do these characters wish to achieve? What dreams are deferred?

8. Though external forces drive the plot of the novel, the marriages of both the Edwards and the Jongas fuel a lot of the drama as well. How do these marriages differ? How are they similar? How do both of these relationships influence the events of the story?

9. Though Jende and Neni are both “outsiders” in American society, they also seem to have the clearest observations and insight into American culture. What are some examples of this? How does the role of an outsider provide a unique vantage point?

10. The Jendes often reflect on their home of Cameroon with both nostalgia and negativity; though they have left their homeland for a better country, Cameroon still remains in their hearts and minds. However, it is clear that even for Clark and Cindy, who are American citizens, it is very difficult to forget where you came from, the history that made you who you are. Discuss the concept of “home” in this novel. How does it impact the central characters?

11. Perhaps one of the saddest moments of the novel is the Jongas’ return to Cameroon. What do you think of this decision? How do you envision their lives if they had tried to stay in America?

12. Consider the theme of power in the novel. How do some of these characters hold power over one another? How do they yield this power?

13. Discuss the choice to place this novel in an America on the brink of recession and the Wall Street collapse. How would this story have looked different without this moment in American history? What would these characters’ journeys have looked like?

14. Discuss the character of Clark Edwards, a man who seems to have many different sides. What is his culpability in the collapse of Lehman Brothers? What type of husband and father is he? Would you consider him a good or a bad man?

15. Consider the role of the American Dream in the novel. How is this ideal defined in this story? In what ways is it manifested in the central men and women of this story? How does it fail them?

The Author

About Imbolo Mbue

Imbolo Mbue Profile

Photo by Kiriko Sano

Imbolo Mbue is a native of the seaside town of Limbe, Cameroon. She holds a BS from Rutgers University and an MA from Columbia University. A resident of the United States for more than a decade, she lives in New York City.

About Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
has been chosen as the 2017 community read!

Dubbed one of the “totally hippest novels of 2016” by the Washington Post.
Oprah Winfrey’s 2017 Book Club Pick.
2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.

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. —

Behold the Dreamers was named by The New York Times and The Washington Post as one of their Notable Books of 2016. It was also named as a Best Book of 2016 by NPR, Amazon, Kirkus Reviews, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and the The St. Louis Dispatch. The novel also won the 2017 Blue Metropolis Words to Change Award. —

More on Behold the Dreamers:

NYTimes Book Review: “An Immigrant Family Encounter the 1 Percent in a Debut Novel”

NPR Books: “Debut Novel Takes On The American Dream … Racism, Recession And All”

The 2017 Committee

Carrie Allmendinger (Historic Huguenot Street)
Fran Arecy (Student, SUNY New Paltz)
Joanna Arkans (New Paltz High School)
Gerald Benjamin, Committee Founder (The Benjamin Center, SUNY New Paltz)
Sue Books (Department of Teaching & Learning, SUNY New Paltz)
Wendy Bower (Department of Communication Disorders, SUNY New Paltz)
Mark Colvson (Sojourner Truth Library, SUNY New Paltz)
John Giralico (Elting Memorial Library)
Robin Jacobowitz (The Benjamin Center, SUNY New Paltz)
Charlene V. Martoni, Webmaster (Sojourner Truth Library, SUNY New Paltz)
Shelley Sherman (New Paltz Community Member)
Myra Sorin (New Paltz Community Member)
Bruce Weisner (New Paltz Community Member)
Linda Welles (Elting Memorial Library)

Contact us at

New Paltz communally reads $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Written by Frances Marion Platt
Published in the New Paltz Times

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Photo by Lauren Thomas. Committee members from left to right: Darlene Davis, Sue Books, Charlene V. Martoni, Myra Sorin, Shelly Sherman, and Linda Welles.

One Book/One New Paltz, the annual joint community reading and discussion experience, returns to town with a week’s worth of activities from November 13 to 20. But this year it’s going to be a little different: Instead of the usual novel, the book selected by the One Book/One New Paltz Committee is a sobering non-fictional account of the lives of people living in extreme poverty. The 2016 Community Read is titled $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). Continue reading


We hope to see you at the events we’ve planned for November. Remember to mark your calendars!

Sunday, 11/13 at 11am
Jewish Center: 30 North Chestnut Street
Rabbi Bill Strongin, spiritual leader of the Jewish Congregation of New Paltz, will lead this book discussion. Please feel free to bring a vegetarian dish to share.

Sunday, 11/13 from 7-8:30pm
Sojourner Truth Library Lobby, SUNY New Paltz

Gather in the library lobby to express your thoughts on the book and poverty in America through poetry, song, or any other creative outlet you choose. All are welcome. To sign up, CLICK HERE.

Monday, 11/14 from 11am-12:30pm
Honor’s Center, SUNY New Paltz

Examine the interplay between agency and structure within the book in this small-groups book discussion, led by Peter Kaufman, professor of sociology, and his students.

Monday, 11/14 from 4-5:30pm
Student Union Room 409, SUNY New Paltz

Listen as Anne R. Roschelle, professor of sociology, and Lisa A. Phillips, associate professor of digital media and journalism, discuss the book within the context of their academic disciplines.

Tuesday, 11/15 at 1pm
Elting Memorial Library: 93 Main Street
Anne R. Roschelle, professor of sociology and author of Struggling in the Land of Plenty, will talk about how homeless mothers in San Francisco engage in a variety of survival strategies to subsist in one of the most expensive cities in the US.

Tuesday, 11/15 from 4-5:30pm
Student Union Room 62, SUNY New Paltz
Edith Kuiper, assistant professor of economics and women, gender, and sexuality studies, will examine the book within the context of her academic disciplines.

Wednesday, 11/16 at 4:30pm
Woodland Pond: 100 Woodland Pond Circle
Tom Olsen, associate professor of English, will lead this discussion.

Wednesday, 11/16 from 5-7pm
Student Union Room 100N, SUNY New Paltz
Join STL librarians Madeline Veitch and Lydia Willougby along with intern Jen Campos in this fun workshop. Try do-it-yourself zine techniques, create self-published zines related to the book, and contribute to a compilation zine!

Thursday, 11/17 from 11am-12:30pm
Elting Memorial Library: 93 Main Street
Reverend Steve Ruelke, a street minister in Newburgh, will share his insights into poverty, accompanied by some of his congregants.

Thursday, 11/17 from 7-8:30pm
Elting Memorial Library: 93 Main Street
Casandra Beam, chief executive officer of the Ulster Literacy Association, Michael Berg, executive director of Family of Woodstock, and Amy Drayer, executive director of Ulster Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), will share their perspectives as key Hudson Valley human service providers.

Friday, 11/18 from 3-4:30pm
Sojourner Truth Library M39, SUNY New Paltz
Bruce Weisner, One Book/One New Paltz committee member, will guide this laid-back book discussion.

Friday, 11/18 from 6-7:30pm
Sojourner Truth Library STL18, SUNY New Paltz
Mark McFadden, director of the Career Resource Center at SUNY New Paltz, will help you discover the three components to a good resume and learn the three strategies for an effective job search.

Saturday, 11/19 from 7-9pm
Elting Memorial Library: 93 Main Street
View an episode of the popular TV show, Shameless, which explores social service issues and requirements. Afterword, participants are invited to  discuss the episode as it relates to the book.

Sunday, 11/20 from 1-2:30pm
Elting Memorial Library: 93 Main Street
Join members of the One Book/One New Paltz committee in a concluding discussion and review of 2016 One Book/One New Paltz events.