Do you remember those things called books? Oh sure, maybe if you’re a single professional type, you read the latest thriller on your lunch break. Or on those rainy days, you curl up in bed with a good romance novel and don’t get up until you’re finished.
When you get just a wee bit older and your life gets a wee bit complicated, it’s harder and harder to steal the moments you need to immerse yourself in a good book. “Reading” gets redefined as looking up the latest baby ailment or skimming the latest gossip magazine wondering if Brangelina are really over this time.
When I recently got my iPad, I thought I’d give this whole ebook (eBook, e-book, ?) thing a try. And what better subject material than something that comes highly recommended from one of my favorite bloggers, Daune, over at The Grasshoppa Tales. While she makes me laugh (on the inside), I also enjoy the deep thoughts that squeak out of her once in a while. One of those was the urging to read “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave.
A quick synopsis: A young African girl leaves the horror of her history and homeland in Nigeria. She arrives in England only to be held in a detention center for immigrants for 2 years. After leaving the center, in a quest to save herself, she reconnects with the suburban English couple she met in Nigeria. They share a horrific past yet somehow together learn what saving themselves really means.
I have to tell you that I generally prefer nonfiction these days. I like to read stories that mean something. A recent favorite that comes to mind is “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah. Subtitled as “memoirs of a boy soldier,” it truly takes you to the frontline of the genocide in countries like Sierra Leone.
While “Little Bee” has some similar overtones and is based partially in reality, it is a work of fiction. However, I formed an opinion very quickly. I could sum it up by simply saying I loved this book (which I did) but I think I owe you more than that if I’m trying to compel you to read it as well.
Here is usually how I decide if I love a book. “Little Bee” met all of these qualifications.
When a book seems to write itself, you don’t focus on the language. You see the book in your mind. You hear the characters speak and the story flows effortlessly. Little Bee hails from Nigeria and although she has learned to speak “the Queen’s English,” you see and hear the young African girl in every line she utters. For a brief while, you meet Yevette, a fellow companion from Jamaica. Again, every line she utters conjures up the image of the easy Jamaican lifestyle complete with wise sensibility and humor. In fact, all of the characters are so well developed that I felt at times as if I was watching a movie.
You have to engage me pretty early on to keep my interest. That means make the characters interesting, make the storyline compelling, and then suck me in. “Little Bee” did that from page one. I enjoy books with a conversational tone, which this one had. It makes it easy to read and again, keeps me engaged.
The storyline was also one of relevant questions about what citizenship means, what immigration laws are all about, and how humanity is interwoven with all of that. Some parts made me think. Some made me cry. Some simply took my breath away. When the book was finished, I missed it.
The story is told primarily by Little Bee, the young Nigerian girl, and Sarah, the well-to-do Englishwoman living in the suburbs. In the middle of each chapter, you realize that the story has switched from Little Bee’s perspective to Sarah’s. And you never even noticed when it happened.
I can’t think of another book where I found so many eloquent lines that were worthy of highlighting. A few to share:
“Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive.” – Little Bee
on the joy of living even after a tragedy
“Disaster, when it is quite sure of its own strength, will announce itself by hardly moving its lips.” – Sarah
on how warning signs of an impending disaster can be so slight
“So when I say that I am a refugee, you must understand that there is no refuge.” – Little Bee
this line is perhaps the most telling of them all
“I never saw the faces of my family but when you have lost everyone, you never lose the habit of looking.” – Little Bee
every face is a reminder of what is lost
“Charlie was nearly two years old and I was emerging from the introverted, chrysalid stage of early motherhood.” – Sarah
one of my favorite lines that captures how I felt after having a child
“I did not miss having a future because I did not know I was entitled to one.” – Little Bee
a true statement for many individuals, refugee or not
With such powerful and poetic writing focused on the lives of two women, imagine my surprise when I found out Chris Cleave was…a man. If this review hasn’t compelled you to read this book, visit Chris Cleave’s website and learn more about him, the book, and the stories that drove him to write it.
By the way, if you have already read it, let me know your thoughts on it. Or tell me a similar book that made you feel the same way. I always love a good read.
P.S. If you have time, tell The Grasshoppa what you thought too. She did start the ball rolling after all.