By Chris Cleave
Completed April 24, 2011
Is it a daunting task to cast a light on your own country to amplify areas that need improvement? For many writers, this is the foundation of their work: to remind readers that we are not perfect; we have much work to do. I believe Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee, falls into this category. His short novel about a Nigerian refugee is powerful in many ways – but it’s the underlying theme about the policies of his native England that pack the biggest punch.
Little Bee is 16 years old and has seen more than most people see in a lifetime. She escaped Nigeria after soldiers (hired by companies with oil interests) murdered her entire family. She lands in England, where she is kept in a detention center for two years. When finally freed, she only knows two people – a young British couple she met while they vacationed in Nigeria – and contacts them for help. Little did she realize that this request would sever Andrew and Sarah’s troubling relationship in a most tragic way.
Through alternating narratives, we learn how Little Bee met Andrew and Sarah, about her escape from Nigeria and the horrid conditions she endured at the British detention camp. Cleave paints a sad picture. He fills it, though, with some warm spots – Little Bee’s quick wit, Sarah’s adorable son and Little Bee’s memories of her village life.
However, despite the richness of these characters, they have horrible flaws. Some flaws were more forgiveable than others. I found the unforgivable flaws, though, very distracting from Cleave’s message . Additionally, while I enjoyed Little Bee’s character, I find her a tad unrealistic at times. Her British English was too perfect; her outlook a little too enlightened. Admittedly, it’s a small complaint.
Little Bee is a perfect book club selection with its many themes and plot twists. Those who like “happily ever after” stories should skip this one, for Cleave creates a realistic ending to his novel. Some may like it; others may not. Overall, I liked Little Bee and hope its message of humanity resonates with its readers – as it did with me. ( )