Wow. Little Bee (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), by Chris Cleave, was awesome. Not in the flip, synonym-for-"cool" way the word's come to be used since, oh, the 1980s, but in the classic, "stunning, sobering, worthy of awe" sense.
Summary (from Booklist Review): "Little Bee, smart and stoic, knows two people in England, Andrew and Sarah, journalists she chanced upon on a Nigerian beach after fleeing a massacre in her village, one grisly outbreak in an off-the-radar oil war. After sneaking into England and escaping a rural immigration removal center, she arrives at Andrew and Sarah's London suburb home only to find that the violence that haunts her has also poisoned them. In an unnerving blend of dread, wit, and beauty, Cleave slowly and arrestingly excavates the full extent of the horror that binds Little Bee and Sarah together. A columnist for the Guardian, Cleave earned fame and notoriety when his first book, Incendiary, a tale about a terrorist attack on London, was published on the very day London was bombed in July 2005. His second ensnaring, eviscerating novel charms the reader with ravishing descriptions, sly humor, and the poignant improvisations of Sarah's Batman-costumed young son, then launches devastating attacks in the form of Little Bee's elegantly phrased insights into the massive failure of compassion in the world of refugees. Cleave is a nerves-of-steel storyteller of stealthy power, and this is a novel as resplendent and menacing as life itself." -Donna Seaman
Opening line: "Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl."
My take: A beautiful, moving, and tremendously original story. As the less-than-descriptive jacket blurb suggests, "the magic is in how the story unfolds," so I'll try not to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that at some point before the story opens, the English Sarah and the Nigerian Little Bee met on a Nigerian beach. Between that meeting and their unexpected reunion in London two years later, Sarah has lost a finger and her husband, the depressed and inscrutable Andrew, and Little Bee has lost her beloved big sister Nkiruka. How this all happens, and how Little Bee comes to ring Sarah's doorbell on the morning of Andrew's funeral, makes for a breathtaking and horrifying read. Don't miss this one.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.