August 13, 2012
Little Bee - Chris Cleave
Little Bee first came to my attention a year or so ago. Two woman meet on a beach in Africa, only to re-connect when Little Bee shows up on Sarah's front step a few years later. That was the extent of what I knew about this book. But it is so much more than that.
First of all, I loved reading it. It was easy enough reading and entertaining enough that it made great holiday reading (especially on a canoe trip where I am generally too exhausted after a day's paddling and portaging to be able to focus on anything more than a bit challenging). And yet it brings up a lot of "issues", especially around immigration and refugee policies.
I hesitate to write too much here about the plot, because part of the pleasure of reading this book came in how slowly the plot and the past unfold through the chapters. Let me just say that the original meeting of the two women on the beach was a lot more traumatic than I had originally thought.
The chapters are told in alternating voices - that of Sarah, an upper-middle class Englishwoman; and that of Little Bee, a refugee from Nigeria - and the author does a very good job of making the two voices and perspectives distinct without resorting to cheap tricks like changing the font (I'm looking at you, Jodi Picoult!). And as I said in my last post, I admire male authors who can authentically capture a female voice.
I loved Little Bee (the character), despite her imperfections. She has such a quirky sense of humour that I found myself quoting the book to LM in places (she may have been wondering why I was giggling out loud as I read in the tent in the evening - but then she had to share the parts that made her giggle when it was her turn to read). Some of my favourite examples:
"I think I shall teach you the names of all of the English flowers," said Sarah. "This is fuchsia, and this is a rose, and this is honeysuckle. What? What are you smiling about?"
"There are no goats. That is why you have all these beautiful flowers."
"There were goats, in your village?"
"Yes, and they ate all the flowers."
"Do not be sorry. We at all the goats."
I (Little Bee) said to her, "I do not think you are wrong for living the life you were born in. A dog must be a dog and a wolf must be a wolf, that is the proverb in my country."
"That's beautiful," said Sarah.
"Actually that is not the proverb in my country."
"No! Why would we have a proverb with wolves in it? We have two hundred proverbs about monkeys, three hundred about cassava. We talk about what we know. But I have noticed, in your country, I can say anything so long as I say that is the proverb in my country. Then people will nod their heads and look very serious."
I'm not going to give any details about the ending of the book, other than to say that it was perfect. I was hoping all along that everything wouldn't wrap up neatly in 266 pages because that isn't how things happen in real life. The ending was perfect.
I'm glad that I read this book. I know that there couldn't be a sequel to it without ruining that perfect ending, but I do plan on reading Chris Cleave's other books. In fact, LM found a copy of his first book, Incendiary, in the discount bin at a bookstore on her way home from the canoe trip; and she has promised to pass it along to me when she is finished!