Reading Mindfully: Imbolo Mbue’s “A Reversal”

Reading Mindfully: Imbolo Mbue’s “A Reversal”

Each month we offer you a chance to read mindfully, using literature to consider your reactions to and assumptions about the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Grab a friend, family member or colleague to read, share and discuss together.

An English-speaking native of predominantly French-speaking Limbe, Cameroon, acclaimed author Imbolo Mbue arrived in the United States at age 17. Her first novel Behold the Dreamers was published in 2016 and tells the story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York City just as the Great Recession hits. Earning wide critical praise, the novel won the PEN/Faulkner Award and was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club. O, the Oprah Magazine wrote that the book “challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred.”

As you read Imbolo Mbue’s short story “A Reversal,” consider these questions:

  • What determines where we belong?
  • What is a homeland or hometown, especially when we no longer live there?
  • How do children or current relationships redefine our future?

A Reversal
By Imbolo Mbue

-When I die, do not take me back home, Papa said. Bury me right here.

I sat up on my bed and rubbed my eyes, briefly looking at my phone.

-Papa, I whispered. What’s going on? It’s two o’clock in the morning.

-I needed you to know this right now, he said. I can’t sleep. Whatever you do, do not take my body back to Cameroon.

I looked through the darkness of my bedroom, the light of a passing ambulance briefly illuminating it. I reached for the lamp but dropped my hand, deciding the darkness would be best for a conversation such as this.

-What did the doctor say at your check up yesterday? I asked. Your blood pressure medicine stopped working again?

-No, nothing like that. I’m fine. He says the way I’m going I may live to see the day when people go over to Mars just to have dinner.

I did not laugh. Neither did he, though he’d clearly made the joke for his own benefit.

-Papa, I have to be at work at 6am, so please tell me right now why you’re calling me in the middle of the night to give me this strange instruction.

He didn’t immediately respond.

-Are you going to tell me now, or do you want me to drive to Brooklyn tomorrow…

He sighed.

Continue reading at Bakwa Magazine.

Image: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Forest Cemetery, 1933, [Public Domain] via

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Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan is a Development Communications Associate at the Cleveland Orchestra and a part-time member of the Books@Work team. She continues to write posts for our blog.