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A Monday Book Review

July 11, 2011

{disclaimer: I am a lover of books, and as a result find it my duty to provide my honest and through opinion of the plot, narration, and overall writing of the books that I read. If you have not read a particular book I am reviewing, I suggest you skip these posts. Just know that any book I review here is one that I highly recommend you pick up and read for yourself, irregardless of my personal feelings towards them}

I picked up this novel while at an airport in May. At that time, I had a few hours to kill, and was honestly attracted to the jacket cover of the novel. In my mind, it had something to do with natural hair. I read the back portion summary, and while it didn’t offer any real insight into the storyline, except for a “secret” worth reading for, I  had heard of the literary buzz surrounding the plot, and decided to give in and buy it. Alas, I wish I had borrowed the book from the library.

I read the entire story from cover to cover in about three days. I could barely put it down because I  just wanted to, know. I wanted pieces of the story to fall into place, to feel at peace with the many challenges brought up. When I finished, my overall opinion of this work is that the “secret” reveled did not deliver in a manner that was advertised, and the whole entire book just left me wanting more. Also, the novel did absolutely no justice to the extremely sensitive issues relevant to the ever-present oil conflict in the Nigerian Delta region, and the plight of asylum seeking refugees. This work simply felt inauthentic and I was slightly angry.

The chapters oscillate between the narrator’s voice of ‘Little Bee’, a year-old Nigerian refugee, and Sarah, a middle-class magazine editor from London. Their meeting is due to some tragic occurrence, and the chapters go back and forth between each of their points of view. While reading, I often found myself bored with Sarah’s narration, and read quickly so that I reached Little Bee’s, hoping her parts told me more about what I yearned to know. Yet, Little Bee’s narration was barely believable. The novel spent a bit of time detailing unimportant thing (such as the many, many ways to attempt suicide), and failed to defend parts of the novel which would have supplemented his overall plot. To say that Little Bee was not effected and did not cry as her sister was murdered, was unbelievable. While I did not really “like” Little Bee, I could not stop reading it, and often found myself thinking about the novel soon after I put it down. Is this the point of literary work? To make you feel something, whether it is good, bad, or an indifference? To draw an emotion, one preferable so strong you’ll defend your opinion. If so, unbeknown to me and against my rationalized way of thinking  Cleave has succeed with me.

I think Cleave’s strengths lie in his ability to detail warm yet heartrenching stories, but at the same time, this is also what I did not appreciate about the narration of the story. It circled about, yet never seemed to ground itself in anything worth believing. The stories of asylum seeking refugees is sooo very important, and I can imagine the vast opportunities he could have taken to talk to refugees. Perhaps, if he had conducted interviews I would have believed him better. A part of me believes in the moral responsibilities writers attain when publishing work. Literary work is extremely powerful. Millions have read this story, and I am sad this is a prevalent [non-fiction] narration of immigration. Above all, I am just tired of the “wealthy liberal white people going against societal norm while looking deep into their hearts when confronted with an idealized version of an African orphan needing their help” narration. Sue me.

Have you read Little Bee? What are your thoughts on the plot, the big “secret” beach story, and the ending? Which character could you most (or at all) identify with? I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts!

I took this picture while relaxing near the lake yesterday. A storm was on its way inland, and I immediately felt like this could have been a scene from the beach in Nigeria in Little Bee. Darn that Chris Cleave for continuing to make me think about the novel way after I have finished reading it!

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