Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Originally Published as: The Other Hand
Genre: Literary fiction
Also by this author: Incendiary; Gold; Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Summary: Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee, fresh out of an immigration detention center in a new country where her only ties reside in an old driver’s license and a business card. Sarah O’Rourke née Summers is a freshly widowed mother who once took a mistaken holiday to Nigeria in an attempt to save her marriage. When they reunite, both are trying to apologize for the wrongs they’ve done unto the other, and both are trying to pick up the little pieces of their shattered lives. Together, they build a little family in Kingston-upon-Thames, glued together with a four-year-old Batman whose only goal is to defeat the baddies.
Favorite Quote: “Life is extremely short and you cannot dance to current affairs” (133).
Review: I need to stop reading books with bees in the title. They end in nothing but love and heartbreak for me. But then, it’s better to have loved and lost, is it not? I don’t know. Anyways, this book was also incredible. I tend to be uneasy when reading books from two separate perspectives because they tend to overlap and thus go rather slowly, but for the most part, this book was an exception to that trend. My one complaint is that, in places, the narrative got repetitive and thus I wasn’t consistently hooked. There were places where I thought “This would be a good time to go to bed” and I feel as though books should avoid doing that as often as possible. Regardless, I can see where the overlap in plot was necessary. The story itself is told by a series of overlapping stories which reflect upon the lives Little Bee and Sarah had before and after their meeting in Nigeria. Every chapter adds a tad more depth to their story, which simultaneously reflects their growing relationship and trust in one another. Readers are led to discover more about certain events, such as how Little Bee got to England, as the truth is opened up for both narrators. There are even instances where chapters (and thus the point of view) switch mid-story, so that readers are given both perspectives to the same event. This form of nonlinear plot development has a more messy, chaotic factor that is tricky to write at all, and Chris Cleave does so rather well.
The characterization of Sarah, Little Bee, and the people in their respective lives is also done beautifully. Both women are headstrong, caring, independent, and viciously grounded in principle. They both take what they value and run with it, taking the world onto their shoulders in the process. And both, although from completely different worlds, have their share of haunting burdens to bear. Little Bee and Sarah show that you can be strong while also being a sobbing wreck, you can be different and yet completely the same, that it’s okay to feel pain even if one person’s pain is seemingly worse, because we’ve all been raised into different worlds and the grass is always greener on the other side.
Little Bee is one of those books that makes you look at what you’re doing and say “is it enough?” and “could I do more?” It makes you ask if you’d chop off your middle finger to possibly save a little girl from death. It’s choc full of moral questions and society’s reach and what makes one human. Needless to say, with so much self-reflection and the first person point of view, it’s one of those books which makes you feel in a very empathetic, what-if sort of way. And then you remember that the point is that these are very real situations and you feel even more.
+ characterization, two points of view, themes, contrast, realness
– bit slow at times, some overlap in narration
In Conclusion: This is the sort of book that should be taught in schools instead of Heart of Darkness. It’s relevant, it’s though-provoking, it’s capable of changing mindsets. It’s one of those books that I firmly believe everybody should read at least once in their lifetime.