Have U read Little Bee?” my friend C. asked me the other day during an early morning Facebook chat.
I’d seen the book mentioned here and there in the book blogging sphere, but had never really felt called to read it in that way that a book will just cry out “Read Me.”
“Heard of it,” I replied, “but nvr read it.”
“Reading it 4 new neighborhood book club. First mtg feb 4 – why don’t U come?”
“OK,” I agreed. “Will get bk from library.”
Couldn’t get Little Bee from library (oops, forgot I wasn’t chatting anymore so I can type in full sentences.) So, I downloaded it onto my Nook. How’s that for instant gratification, book style?
I had a bit of trouble with the premise of the book. <spoiler alert> Sarah and Andrew O’Rourke, a London couple on vacation in war-torn Nigeria, are terrorized by rebels who are holding two native girls hostage. In order to save the native girls from immediate death, the rebels insist the Americans must slice off their finger with a machete. Andrew cannot do it, and they murder one of the sisters in front of his eyes. Sarah, however, mutilates herself, creating a connection between herself and the remaining sister – Little Bee. This connection gets tested two years later when Little Bee shows up at the door of her savior on the very day Andrew, consumed by guilt for his cowardice, commits suicide.
I also had trouble with the violence (you know how I hate violence in books, movies, or television). Already I’ve had to do the literary version of covering my eyes, i.e., skipping pages until it’s over, and I fear there’s more to come.
It made me uncomfortable to read about the refugee center in England where innocent people are held like virtual prisoners and likely to be deported to countries where they will surely die.
But I understand what Chris Cleve is doing in examining the way human compassion can overcome the ills of degradation, violence, and racism. I appreciate the relationship between the two women, and the way Little Bee lends strength and resolve to Sarah. I think those themes are always worth writing about, and I want to like this book.
But I’m not always sure that I do.
Perhaps I’m not meant to “like” it. Perhaps I’m being shallow in preferring books that don’t throw such hard truths about people and life in my face. Perhaps its good to be poked and prodded by a book, rather than soothed and entertained.
One thing for sure – there will be plenty to talk about at the book club meeting.