Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
288 pages
Published February 2009 by Simon and Schuster Adult
Source: bought it for the Omaha Bookworms March read

After two years in a British detention center for immigrants, Little Bee is finally being released along with three other refugees.  Each of the girls is carrying a plastic bag with all of their worldly belongings in them.  For one of the girls, the bag is empty, in another there are pineapple rings, in a third there is a mass of official documents.  In Little Bee's there is a business card and a driver's license belonging to Andrew O'Rourke.
 "The African girl they locked up in the immigration detention center, poor child, she never really escaped. In my soul she is still locked up in there, forever, under the fluorescent lights, curled up on the green linoleum floor with her knees tucked up under her chin. And this woman they released from the immigration detention center, this creature that I am, she is a new breed of human. There is nothing natural about me. I was born - no, I was reborn - in captivity."
 Ten days later, Little Bee rings the door bell at the O'Rourke home, stunning Sarah O'Rourke. Andrew and Sarah had first met Little Bee on a beach in Nigeria while they were on a vacation but neither of them had ever expected to see Little Bee again.  All three of them have never forgotten what happened that day.

Have you ever seen the movie "The Crying Game?" Toward the end of that movie there was a major revelation that entirely changed everything. The makers of the movie asked that viewers of the movie not let the secret out and people were astonishingly good about not reveling the secret. This publishers of this book have made a similar request of readers and in the spirit of not spoiling the book for anyone, I'm going not going to give anything more of the plot away. Although I don't think the twist in Little Bee that has been so well guarded is quite as shocking, there are actually a number of surprises in this book.

The book is written in alternating first-person narratives by both Little Bee and Sarah and both women bare their souls to the reader. Cleave does a marvelous job of capturing both voices. Occasionally I felt that the book dragged a bit on both sides of the story and I found myself not much liking Sarah, but then I'm sure that Cleave did not intend for his readers to like her. Little Bee's narratives were full of wonderful observations about society that really caught my attention.
"Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl. There was plenty of time for it. We did not have hurry. We did not have electricity or fresh water or sadness either, because none of these had been connected to our village yet."
I have often thought that all the things we think people in remote villages need are just the things that start causing problems for the villagers.

I've been wanted to read Little Bee since it first came out but finally got to it because the Omaha Bookworms chose it for our March read. In the same paragraph as the above quote, three of us had marked this passage as an example of Cleave's lovely writing.
"I sat in between the roots of my limba tree and I laughed while I watched Nkiruka swinging back and fro, back and fro. The tether of the swing was very long, so it took a long time for her to travel from one end of its swing to the other. It never looked like it was in a rush, that swing. I used to watch it all day long and I never realized that I was watching a pendulum counting down the last seasons of peace in my village."
Little Bee was recommended to me by a number of people as an excellent book club read and they were so right. Several of the ladies had not finished the book yet but all were eager to discuss what they had read and all enjoyed the book. Little Bee is not a light nor an easy read but it is a book well worth reading.

19 comments:

  1. You're so right -- it's not an easy read and not light. Some parts of it really stuck with me. But I think it's an important read and, as you say, well worth reading.

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  2. I have had my hand on this book, ready to purchase, several times, but I sort of feel like it might not live up to all the hype. What do you think? Do you think I should go for it?

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  3. I thought Sarah was just the biggest idiot going, and I think it did affect how much I liked the book or not!

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  4. Ok, just knowing that there's something at the end of the book has me wanting to read this one soon!! I've heard good things about it but I was always under the impression it was lighter. Silly me. I noticed at the bookstore the other day that the author has another book out? Have you heard anything about it?

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  5. Yay! Glad you enjoyed this. It was definitely a unique novel :o)

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  6. I absolutely loved this stunning book! One of my faves for 2009 I believe. I'm glad that you finally got the chance to experience it for yourself! And it does make for an excellent club book!

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  7. I've had this book for ages now and I keep meaning to read it, just so I can find out the twist for myself since everyone's so mysterious! It's not the same surprise as the one in The Crying Game is it????

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  8. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It does make a good book club pick though I read it on my own awhile back. It's one of my go to recommends for readers who want something a little different.

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  9. I'm listening to this one right now, as you know I was in a funk most of March (excuses, excuses). I know I will love it!

    I'm listening and the narrator has a beautiful voice/tone.

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  10. I think you're right, Little Bee is an excellent book club title (my thoughts about the book are here: http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=25).

    I think that the main thing that worked against this book is all the boasting on the cover.

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  11. I agree. The audio version was extremely well done, too. The reader's voice imparted an almost dreamlike, surreal quality to Little Bee's narratives that was very effective.

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  12. Lisa, I am so happy that you liked this one. It really was a home-run for me.

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  13. I didn't know that there was a secret in this book that readers have been great about not revealing (I was clueless about The Crying Game, too...until I saw it!).
    I read a review of Little Bee long ago and knew I wanted to read it so I've only skimmed most of the reviews since. But, like so many great books, Little Bee got lost in the shuffle. Reading your review reminded me that I wanted to read this book. Sarah and Little Bee sound so real and human. Sometimes I find a character I dislike more interesting than one I like. I'll have to see how it goes for me with Sarah when I finally read this book! Cleave's writing is beautiful, too and these quites are great.

    Thanks for the reminder and a great review, Lisa!

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  14. A friend just lent this to me to read-sounds really intriguing. I like the promise of surprises and twists.

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  15. Sounds fascinating.
    I'll have to add this one to my list.

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  16. I guess I am the voice of dissent here...

    While I agree that the writing was lovely, pure vibrant lovely, the book itself had a "Driving Miss Daisy" quality to it-- the theme: noble African Girl teaching the Poor Rich English Woman about the true meaning of life is a bit cringe-worthy. I still enjoyed it, but with this giant chip on my shoulder :)

    Also, there isn't any sort of "secret" in this book, just an excellent scene (The "beach scene") that is finally revealed halfway through. It IS an excellent scene and totally riveting, but there isn't really a twist to it.

    I reviewed "Little Bee" on my blog last month. (http://lesserapricots.blogspot.com/2011/03/random-book-review-little-bee-by-chris.html)

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  17. I'm certainly not going to disagree with you, Perri, about the "Driving Miss Daisy" quality; it's certainly there. I would still contend that what happens on the beach is a "secret" because it's a piece of the book that no one seems willing to reveal. Also something that Sarah doesn't reveal. I certainly wasn't expecting what happened to happen, definitely not in the way that it did and I guess I would still call that a twist, as well.

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  18. Okay I just started reading this so I'm not reading your post at all - but I am excited you enjoyed it.

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