Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
288 pages
Published February 2009 by Simon and Schuster Adult
Source: bought it for the Omaha Bookworms March read

After two years in a British detention center for immigrants, Little Bee is finally being released along with three other refugees.  Each of the girls is carrying a plastic bag with all of their worldly belongings in them.  For one of the girls, the bag is empty, in another there are pineapple rings, in a third there is a mass of official documents.  In Little Bee's there is a business card and a driver's license belonging to Andrew O'Rourke.
 "The African girl they locked up in the immigration detention center, poor child, she never really escaped. In my soul she is still locked up in there, forever, under the fluorescent lights, curled up on the green linoleum floor with her knees tucked up under her chin. And this woman they released from the immigration detention center, this creature that I am, she is a new breed of human. There is nothing natural about me. I was born - no, I was reborn - in captivity."
 Ten days later, Little Bee rings the door bell at the O'Rourke home, stunning Sarah O'Rourke. Andrew and Sarah had first met Little Bee on a beach in Nigeria while they were on a vacation but neither of them had ever expected to see Little Bee again.  All three of them have never forgotten what happened that day.

Have you ever seen the movie "The Crying Game?" Toward the end of that movie there was a major revelation that entirely changed everything. The makers of the movie asked that viewers of the movie not let the secret out and people were astonishingly good about not reveling the secret. This publishers of this book have made a similar request of readers and in the spirit of not spoiling the book for anyone, I'm going not going to give anything more of the plot away. Although I don't think the twist in Little Bee that has been so well guarded is quite as shocking, there are actually a number of surprises in this book.

The book is written in alternating first-person narratives by both Little Bee and Sarah and both women bare their souls to the reader. Cleave does a marvelous job of capturing both voices. Occasionally I felt that the book dragged a bit on both sides of the story and I found myself not much liking Sarah, but then I'm sure that Cleave did not intend for his readers to like her. Little Bee's narratives were full of wonderful observations about society that really caught my attention.
"Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl. There was plenty of time for it. We did not have hurry. We did not have electricity or fresh water or sadness either, because none of these had been connected to our village yet."
I have often thought that all the things we think people in remote villages need are just the things that start causing problems for the villagers.

I've been wanted to read Little Bee since it first came out but finally got to it because the Omaha Bookworms chose it for our March read. In the same paragraph as the above quote, three of us had marked this passage as an example of Cleave's lovely writing.
"I sat in between the roots of my limba tree and I laughed while I watched Nkiruka swinging back and fro, back and fro. The tether of the swing was very long, so it took a long time for her to travel from one end of its swing to the other. It never looked like it was in a rush, that swing. I used to watch it all day long and I never realized that I was watching a pendulum counting down the last seasons of peace in my village."
Little Bee was recommended to me by a number of people as an excellent book club read and they were so right. Several of the ladies had not finished the book yet but all were eager to discuss what they had read and all enjoyed the book. Little Bee is not a light nor an easy read but it is a book well worth reading.

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