Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Tags: Tragedy, Immigration, Nigeria, England, Hope
“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 called, globalization. A girl like me gets stopped at immigration, but a pound can leap 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.” (Little Bee, page 2)
Little Bee is about two women who unexpectedly find each other through tragedy. It is their stories, told in alternating points of view, which drive the narrative of the novel. It is riveting. Horrific in part, but giving a poignant portrayal of grief in another. There is a mix of humor in a dark tale, a mix of circumstance and inevitability, a mix of cultures and of life experiences and of age, and a mix of people in the wrong place at the wrong time – be it a white suburban couple on a beach in Nigeria amidst the oil war, or a Nigerian refugee released unexpectedly from an immigration detention center and left standing in the alien English countryside.There are some beautiful turns of phrase with some real insights into different perspectives – the difference in first and third world understandings of freedom and the future.
Thematically the novel explores fate and how in an instant our lives can be changed by things not in our control. It also takes a hard look immigration laws. A third theme looks at the choices we make and how those choices impact our futures and the futures of those closest to us.
One of the problems I had with the book was not so much the story or Cleave’s writing – but the marketing of the book – which sets the reader up with high expectations. The book flap reads:
We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is truly a special story and we don’t want to spoil it.
And they don’t. That’s it. So as a reader, you pick up the book with certain expectations. I expected not just a good book, but a book which was going to blow me away; perhaps provide a twist in the plot which would surprise me. That didn’t happen, and I could not help but feel a little manipulated.
However, this is a good book. It is a meaningful book which is heartbreaking in many ways. And despite revealing the dark side of humanity in his story, Cleave also shows that there are good people in the world. There is light even when there is darkness. The world may have evil, but it also has hope and goodness.