Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Little Bee

Little Bee. Sound like a children's book? This novel by Chris Cleave (which has been sinfully collecting dust on my shelf for that last couple of years) is anything but. Even the title and cover design seem to imply a lightness. But the story isn't light. It's fairly heavy. And I found it deeply compelling–and irrevocably eloquent.

The story involves a young Nigerian refugee girl who escapes the horror of her homeland as big oil companies are uprooting villages. Her fate becomes bound to a recently widowed journalist who is dealing with her own complex issues. Her husband took his own life, leaving her with a four-year old super hero who refuses to take off his Batman suit. When Little Bee shows up at Sara Summers door on the day of her husband's funeral, secrets and histories become disclosed.

There were many aspects that struck me about this book. The beautiful dialect of Little Bee. Maybe it's because I have an African friend, but I loved the voice. I could hear her lovely idiom, as she so formally used the "Queen's English." And while by definition prose is not poetry, Mr. Cleave's writing is undeniably elegant. Beautiful.

At the heart of the novel is a moral conundrum that would make for an excellent book discussion. I won't ruin the plot for you, but I bring it up because it made me consider how I rate books/characters. Typically, if a protagonist had done something that I am morally opposed to, I repudiate the book. (Not always, but often.) And not this one. The story was too compelling. The writing was too good. And obviously, the plot was too clever.

Oh and one more thing. While it was fiction, it certainly brought to light more social injustice in the world. And once again, it reminded me to thank God for my warm bed every night.

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