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[170] Little Bee: A Novel – Chris Cleave

lbee“This is the moment. Even for a girl like me, then, there comes a day when she can stop surviving and start living. To survive, you have to look good or talk good. But to end your story well—here is the truth—you have to talk yourself out of it.” [220]

Little Bee is exactly what Sarah Summers is not. Little Bee flees from Nigeria where an oil war annihilates her village and takes the life of her family. Sarah is a London editor who strives to maintain a balance between the glossy magazine job and suburbia parenting amidst a marriage awash in a storm. Little Bee suffers a wounded psyche while Sarah fights with her husband over building a glasshouse in the garden. Yet as the book (note I say book, not story) unfolds, when their narratives communicate, they have more in common than just the color of skin, the flag of the country, the Queen’s English they speak, and the station in life which they find themselves would them to believe.

The subtexts eventually conveys the truth that both women are refugees who desperately seek a different kind of shelter: Little Bee a place in the world where she can undress her protective guise and live like a human being. Sarah a second chance to amend her marriage that her affair has marauded. The circuitous circumstances that lead to their fateful meeting at the African beach can’t better demonstrate that human beings, stripped of the socioeconomic nutshell, are just helpless creatures as the mercy of mother nature, deprived of any great effort upon the vast warm wind of events that are greater than them.

But the book doesn’t begin with the horrific scene, which is really the heart of the matter. Instead Chris Cleave plunges into the aftermaths that afford the complicated terrains of these women’s emotions and trickle their way back to the central event. The result is a style, almost like synecdoche, of a dramatic caliber befitting the nature of this special story. Maybe it is indeed a synecdoche, since the book is released in the British Commonwealths under the title The Other Hand. The hand and finger play a crucial role in the story. Who wouldn’t be drawn into the story of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian girl whose two-year custody at the immigration detention center exemplifies political cruelty of the West? The mandates to survive—conforming to the dress code and speech—paradoxically dehumanizes her. Is it dignity for liberty? For Sarah, the dream vacation that was to save her marriage freeloads her life to a disaster. For years after the beach incident memories swirl in her mind—inchoate, senseless and miserable. Faith stymied, she escapes to something that disquiets her conscience. Little does she know that the Nigerian refugee is the keeper of a truth that will ease her scruple.

Little Bee is a novel that reminds us of humanity, humanity at its best and most invincible, in the face of horror and sorrow. The manner with which their disparate lives intersect is serendipitous, and how this story unfolds is magic. The book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, nudging the terrains of delicate emotions. The voice of the Nigerian girl is sardonic and vulnerable, reminiscing the sarcastic tone of the narrator in The White Tiger. [Read/Skim/Toss]

19 Responses

  1. I’ll keep an eye out for this novel!

    Sounds very interesting.

  2. Bravo Matthew! That is an incredible review. (Having read the book already, I do know the story.) You have really captured the essence of this amazing book. Thank you for that!

  3. Thanks for telling me about this book. I would keep my eye on it when it is released. Your review is so well-written and glowing, and a great teaser!

    See you at the Christmas concert!

  4. Nice review. I’m adding another to the ol’ wish list!

  5. Loved reading your review. This book sounds like a must-read and I’ll be looking for it.

  6. You really capture the essence of the book! This definitely jumps to the front of the line when it comes out!

  7. Isabel:
    So many *great* books coming up early next year. This one is a sure read!

  8. Karin:
    Thanks so much for bringing this book to my attention. I was hooked from the very beginning when she says she would rather be a British pound coin than a girl from Africa. So sarcastic and yet vulnerable.

  9. Ken:
    Thanks Ken. I hope you’ll enjoy this book. It’s very special.

  10. Beth F & Iliana:
    I have feeling that most of the book bloggers will love this book. It’s well-written and captivating. 🙂

  11. John:
    You can read my copy of ARC if you can’t wait. 🙂

  12. Thanks for the great review, Matt!
    I’d love to read this so there goes to my wishlist! ;P

  13. Melody:
    This is a must-read. I’m telling everyone about this book. 🙂

  14. […] ARC/Books to Watch For Little Bee: A Novel Chris Cleave Cutting for Stone Abraham […]

  15. […] picture. The Clothes on their Backs by Linda Grant, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and Little Bee by Chris Cleave would probably make great movies. After the success of Slumdog Millionaire, I think […]

  16. […] Beloved, Toni Morrison 12. The Hours, Michael Cunningham 13. The Piano Teacher, Janice Y.K. Lee 14. Little Bee: A Novel, Chris Cleave 15. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott […]

  17. […] Sticky Fifteen … on [184] The Great Gatsby –…The Sticky Fifteen … on [170] Little Bee: A Novel …The Sticky Fifteen … on [200] The Piano Teacher …The Sticky Fifteen … on [195] […]

  18. […] that many readers may share. I found a trade paperback of Chris Cleave’s Incendiary. Little Bee was one of my favorite books in 2008, and many book bloggers have eulogized his debut, Incendiary, […]

  19. […] out loud) I as reading this book titled The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, whose book Little Bee I enjoyed tremendously. If you haven’t read it, it is a novel that reminds us of humanity, […]

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