Monthly Archives: May 2009

Little Bee

The inside jacket reads “We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it… The magic is in how the story unfolds.”

What might have been an empty marketing ploy turns out to be genuine. Little Bee is a novel to cherish; Little Bee is a character you will not forget. little bee 2

Chris Cleave, a journalist for The Guardian, tells the story of two characters: Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee who has been locked up in a British detention center, and Sarah, an editor for a women’s magazine. The mystery – and beauty of this fictional tale – is in how and why they meet.

At the intersection of ethnic violence in the Niger delta and London city life, Cleave exposes some of the toughest issues, from globalization, political greed and oil wars, to the equally painful, but more personal realities of damaged relationships and family. His sharp writing and commitment to the characters’ voices provide a steady foundation on which the turbulent story develops.

The most poignant moments emerge when Little Bee contrasts her current experience with life in Nigeria. She asks “What is an adventure?” and answers her own question:

“That depends on where you are starting from. Little girls in your country, they hide in the gap between the washing machine and the refrigerator and they make believe they are in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around them. Me and my sister, we used to hide in a gap in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around us, and make believe that we had a washing machine and a refrigerator. You live in a world of machines and you dream of things with beating hearts. We dream of machines because we see where beating hearts have left us.”

Little Bee’s innocent view of London is backfilled by her memories of Nigeria. She doesn’t understand horror films because for her, horror is a “film in her memory” that is always playing, and that she “cannot walk out of.” In her new environment, she wonders how to describe things to the “girls back home” – wood floors inside a house instead of piles of firewood, or the “ghosts” who don’t look at each other or touch each other as they hustle to work.

Cleave forces the reader to encounter everyday life with a new outlook and question which is more powerful: cultural difference or individual likeness. In Little Bee, worlds and perspectives merge to expose beauty beneath unattractive political and personal veneers.

(My review from Women’s Adventure Magazine.)

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Great Fiction Run

Whenever I’m back east visiting family for a month at a time (usually in May and October), I seem to find consistently good books, back-to-back-to-back reads that I devour and can’t wait to recommend. Is it because I have more time to read? Or is it because I go to one of my favorite indie bookstores, R.J. Julia, at least three times a week?!

This trip east (CT, Maine, NY) doesn’t disappoint. Here are my recent reads and reccos:

Little Bee, Chris Cleave – full review coming out shortly in Women’s Adventure Magazine. I can’t recommend this book enough! Read slowly and savor the writing, the characters, the story. Mmmm…. “Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive.

story of a marriageThe Story of a Marriage, Andrew Sean Greer (just out in paperback) – witty, poignant, sharp and bound to be forever relevant. “How hollow, to have no secrets left; you shake yourself and nothing rattles.”

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson – good beach read/mystery for more serious readers who snub mass market mysteries (guilty as charged!) 

Genesis, Bernard Beckett – wow! I need someone else to read this so we can DISCUSS!! genesis“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear, and by suspicion.”

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne – quick young adult read; creative tale, but nothing trumps The Book Thief as far as stories on WWII Germany.

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Little Bee

I’m blown away by Chris Cleave’s Little Bee. One of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. little-bee-2

I need to simmer on this a bit before writing, but stay tuned for a review. In the meantime, fiction lovers: keep an eye out for this winner!

Mr. Cleave: Bravo.

“To survive, you have to look good or talk good. But to end your story well – here is the truth – you have to talk yourself out of it.

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