Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Little Bee

Little Bee: A Novel

by Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster
February, 2009

- a few spoilers here

I wanted to like Little Bee. It has generally very good reviews in both the MSM and among bloggers. I did love it for the first 100 pages or so! It is the story of a 16 year old Nigerian refugee wise beyond her years and her interactions with a suburban middle class British couple. They meet first on a beach in Nigeria where a horrific event takes place and then again when Little Bee is released from a refugee detention center outside of London.

The story is told in the alternating narrative voices of Little Bee and Sarah. Little Bee’s voice is very good – entertaining, often funny, strong with an amazing will to live in spite of appalling circumstances.  It is amazing to me that a white Anglo Saxon male could have written this character so well.  Sarah I liked a lot less. I found her to be annoying, self centered and beset with Yuppie problems but I was intrigued with her one act of courage in the story.  I did have some trouble aligning this act with the rest of her character.

The descriptions of the beach scene in Nigeria are excellent and I think plausible. The choices made by Sarah and her husband are thought provoking and haunting – does a momentary failure of courage doom someone? How would you react if you had an extremely short period of time to make a life changing, life saving decision?  Is it courageous to do what Sarah did; is it cowardice to do what Andrew did?

The parts of the story that involve Sarah's son are quite well done and again often funny; he seems a very true to life character.  Once events leave the retrospective telling of the events I think the plot twists are not realistic. The chapter where Sarah reunites with Little Bee on the airplane going to Nigeria is ridiculous. The ending is very problematic for me; no mother who had had the experiences Sarah had would willingly take her child into a dangerous place like Nigeria.

The back drop for this novel is how the Western countries treat immigrants, especially those needing political asylum. Additionally the dark politics of oil exploration in developing countries and globalization are also mixed in. I liked the way the author subtly integrated these issues into the story and I learned something in reading this book.

The US marketing for this book is fairly controversial. First off, the publishers changed the title. It had been published in the UK as On The Other Hand. Second, they made a decision to withhold any real information about the plot, and what information they gave was wildly misleading – “cute, hilarious, and magical” are not the three adjectives I’d use to describe this story. I can imagine many readers would be put off with the absolute brutality present in the story and the unhappy ending. I can’t think the author is pleased with either of these decisions.

So in summary, while I did like and would recommend this book - there were some very compelling moments - I will remember the main character Little Bee and her story long after I’ve forgotten most of the rest of this novel.


JLauren said...

It's awesome to have some real perspective on this book, I've been looking forward to reading it based on it's 'cute and magical' qualities. But I definitely still want to read it!

Kathy said...

JLauren, I did not really intend to be negative on this book, I enjoyed it but I thought it did not live up to the hype. Enjoy, kathy