What if…

What if the reason why the Jongas did not thrive in America was because there was a curse on them? 

Even though this idea sounds ungrounded and out of left field, it is actually supported by the text. In the beginning of chapter fifty-eight, Mbue inserts a seemingly unimportant line: “The Bakweri people of Limbe believe August is a cursed month…and it is for this reason that many in the tribe do not marry, build houses, or start businesses in August”. In its intended context, this line is used to show the overpowering nature of Jende’s desire for returning home; he is willing to risk the prosperity of his family and possibly waste their last chance at a new life. However, examining this quote in the full context of the book it takes on a whole new meaning. In theory, if Jende arrived in America during August he could carry this same curse with him in his new life. Mbue does not include the month that Jende arrives in America, so to prove this theory we have to do a little digging. We are told however that Neni arrives with Liomi eighteen months after Jende. Now we need to find the month when Neni and Liomi arrived in New York to use in counting backwards to find Jende’s arrival month. Although it is not directly stated, Mbue writes that Jende and Neni were married “two weeks after their arrival…on that day in May 2006”. So now we need to count back eighteen months from May 2006. Surprisingly, the math supports that Jende did arrive in New York in late August or early September 2005. Later, I found that this suspicion was also confirmed in chapter sixty-two: “They bade New York City goodbye…late August, around the same time he had arrived five years before”. With the confirmation that Jende arrived in New York during late August, it is safe to assume that they are affected by this curse. He gained the curse in the beginning of August 2005 in Limbe and carried it into New York. The irony of the situation is that “Jende Jonga, a Bakweri man, believed nothing in curses”. His same views on the supernatural that forced him to refuse help from the church, also stopped him from realising that he was cursed. If the Jongas went to America in a different month it is possible that they could have thrived in the new country. This curse stops the building of new houses and businesses, so it is reasonable to assume that this curse stopped Jende from finding a suitable living arrangement, and it could be responsible for Jende’s terrible luck with finding a stable job. Taking this idea further, it is possible that this curse could also be responsible for Jende’s fight with immigration. I love that this is a detail that Mbue put into “Behold the Dreamers” that is easily gone unnoticed; in my opinion, it is possible that she added this detail as a further nod to her culture.

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