Friday, April 2, 2010

Chris Cleave's "Little Bee"

"I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it
wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop.
Our stories are the tellers of us."
Chris Cleave
Little Bee

If you know me, you probably know my love for all things related to Africa. In college, I originally had no intention of making Africana Studies one of my majors, but I fell in love with the subject and haven't looked back since. There is just something about Africa that grips me. So it should come as no surprise that when I saw Chris Cleave's Little Bee in the bookstore, I had to have it. And although it took me about a month to finally get it from the library, when I did, I absolutely devoured it. here's the synopsis without giving too much away--a young girl from Nigeria (who has christened herself "Little Bee") is on the run from a group of rebels because she witnessed them killing many people in her village. She ends up in England in a detention center and is mistakenly released with no papers to prove her citizenship either way. The only contact in England that she has is a British couple she met while they were vacationing in Nigeria. The circumstances under which they met are extraordinary and life-altering and guide the story. There were several times where I found myself with my mouth wide open and my hand to my chest in shock. Even though I know full well that things like this happen every day, the way Chris Cleave tells the story makes it more real. Both Little Bee and Sarah, the British woman that Little Bee meets on the beach, are able to tell their sides of the story through alternating chapters. Cleave makes you care about the characters so much, even though Sarah seems a little high maintenance and sometimes I just wanted to slap her.

There were two things that I really appreciated about the book and I think that they were the reasons that I felt so moved by it. Little Bee's story is obviously the more devastating as you can imagine, and throughout her telling it (which she does somewhat reluctantly), she talks about how she would have to change the telling of the story if she were telling it to the girls in Nigeria. Little Bee has prided herself on perfecting "the Queen's English" and thus tells the story that way even though she feels that there is something lost in the language that could be captured better in her native tongue. But I think that this is an important aspect of the story--Little Bee is breaking through the barrier of language and of culture to tell the story to the people she wants to understand--who she needs to understand. And I think that there is a certain beautiful nakedness in that and a certain sadness too--through this conscious action of almost translating her story, Little Bee acknowledges that the people that she knows are reading her story are reading it from a completely different perspective than the people form her homeland. She opens her story wishing she could be a British pound because it has power and influence that she will never have as a Nigerian woman. It is powerful in making the reader understand the unnecessary divide that exists between the developing world and our world--while there may be differences in culture, there are not differences in how we bleed and how we feel and how we want to better ourselves. The relationship between Little Bee and Sarah solidifies and strengthens this notion and becomes something to be pondered.

The other thing that kept me enraptured was in the fact that it made me think. Not in just a "whodunit" kind of way, but in a "what would I do" kind of way. There are a lot of moral issues that arise in the book, and I don't want to give anything away, but it's something that makes you think about yourself as a person and as a citizen of the world and what our responsibility is in that world.

This is a wonderful book with some beautiful language, but is not necessarily a "light read" in that it's not happy go lucky all the time. I would highly recommend Little Bee if you need something to start out your spring/summer reading fix. This may be a good pick for those of you who liked The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, or Fortunate Son by Walter Mosely.

If you've read this already, tell me what you thought--and if you decide to read it, I'd like to hear what you think!

On a side note, yay for 12 followers! :)

Next on the pile: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

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