Sunday, March 8, 2009

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

The cover flap of Little Bee by Chris Cleave reads
We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again—the story starts there…

My husband does not drive; therefore, I am always happy when I have to drop him off where there’s bookstore and cup of coffee nearby. Such was my happiness on Saturday, February 21, and I had almost an hour to spend in Barnes & Noble. On my way in, a cover caught my eye: Bright, almost neon organge with two heads in silhouette, and the title in an old script type style. I picked it up, ordered my coffee, and started reading…and stopped just long enough to pay for the book, pick up my husband, and head home to finish the book that same day.

Page 1; we hear Little BeeMost days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead—but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other’s names.

A pound coin can go wherever it thinks it will be safest. It can cross deserts and oceans and leave the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind. When it feels warm and secure, it will turn around and smile at you, the way my big sister Nkiruka used to smile at the men in our village in the short summer after she was a girl but before she was really a woman, and certainly before the evening my mother took her to a quiet place for a serious talk.

Of course a pound coin can be serious too. It can disguise itself as power, or property, and there is nothing more serious when you are a girl who has neither. You must try to catch the pound, and trap it in your pocket, so that it cannot reach a safe country unless it takes you with it. But a pound has all the tricks of a sorcerer. When persued I have seen it shed its tail like a lizard so that you are left holding only pence. And when you finally go to seize it, the British pound can perform the greatest magic of all, and this is to transform itself into not one, but two, identical green American dollar bills. Your fingers will close on empty air, I am telling you.

How I would love to be a British pound. A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. This is the human triumph. This is call, globalization. A girl like me gets stopped at immigration, but a pound can lep the turnstiles, and dodge the tackles of those big men with their uniform caps, and jump straight into a waiting airport taxi. Where to, sir? Western Civilization, my good man, and make it snappy.

Globalization, immigration detention centers, Nigerian oil deposits—political realities in the abstract made real in the story that unfolds with dignity through the voices of Little Bee, a teenager from a small Nigerian village, and Sarah O’Rourke, editor of a high style British women’s magazine.

Little Bee“Take it from me,” she says at the outset, “a scar does not form from dying. A scar means, I survived.”

Started & Finished on February 21, 2009
Rating: 5/5 (Fiction Scale)
Pages: 266
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2008
Format: Hardcover

Dedication: For Joseph

Epigraph: Britain is proud of its tradition of providing a safe haven for people fleeting [sic] persecution and conflict. –from Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship (UK Home Office, 2005)

April 20, 2009: Les has just posted a wonderful review of Little Bee!

June 20, 2010:  Kristen at BookNAround posted a less enthusiastic review here!


Les said...

I just posted my review for this wonderful book! Thanks for leading me to it, Marcia.

Marcia said...

I just read your wonderful review, Les, and loved the way you highlighted Little Bee's observations. Like others, I have many pages marked in this book. The writing is just captivating. Cleave wastes no words yet all of a reader's senses are on edge as we follow Little Bee.

Les said...

I'm enjoying Cleave's blog and look forward to his next book. Not sure I'm interested in his first novel, but I might give it a try. He's a very talented writer!

Heather J. said...

FYI, I'm posting my review of this tomorrow and will be including a link to yours. I LOVED this book.

Marcia said...

Heather-The opening pages of Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman have always been my favorite. Little Bee's opening is nudging closer and closer to the top of the list. I'll look forward to seeing your review!

Les-My apologies! I've been so tied down with work-related stuff that I neglected to publish your comment from 4/21. I picked up Incendiary at the library, tried but just wasn't drawn into it. Maybe another time....