Simply Reading: Little Bee

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.

Here is  more about Little Bee, including an interesting video interview with the author


10 thoughts on “Simply Reading: Little Bee

  1. I’ve not even heard of this book, so I’m wondering if it’s available in the UK. From what you say about its subject I would have thought it ought to be, so I will have to go off and do some research. I’m like you with the flicking over the pages bit when I come to things that are hard to read about, although having just taught ‘Titus Andronicus’ I really shouldn’t be squeamish about cutting off a finger. One of the very few things I dislike about audiobooks is that you can’t do the flicking through, you have to listen to every gruesome word.

    • Electronic books have the same problem, re flipping through the pages.
      I should imagine you can get this book in the UK. I’ve grown more interested in it as I approach the end.

  2. I keep seeing this book pop up, but have yet to get my hands on a copy. I know what you mean about not necessarily loving a book that is uncomfortable, though perhaps that is the intention. Sounds worth the read, at any rate. Hope you enjoy the discussion!

    • As I near the ending, and after watching an interview with the author, I’m coming to a better understanding and appreciation of the book as a whole. Definitely thought provoking!

  3. While the book was beautifully written, I found it horribly upsetting. I couldn’t find it from the library, either, and so I downloaded the audio version onto my iPod. It was read by an African American girl, should I have said Black girl? she probably wasn’t American, which made it all the more heart-wrenching. Such a story. I was as intrigued by their marriage as I was by Little Bee’s plight.

    • I thought Sarah and Andrew’s marriage was very strange and disjointed. Her relationship with Lawrence wasn’t much better.

      It is well written, and I think Cleve achieves his purpose, which is to make us all think about the way people become invisible to us, and as such, devalued. But it’s not a comfortable book to read.

  4. I don’t think I could read this book. Like you, I can’t read about violence- 0r see it on screen. The Kite Runner’s violence, for example, spoiled the story for me and has stayed with me.

  5. I was mildly interested in this book when lots of people were reviewing it – a lot of people were deeply moved by this book – but every time I see it in the store and contemplate buying it, I just end up putting it back down thinking it is just going to be a little too much for me to read. I’m sure I’ll end up reading it some day, but for now, I think I’m okay just putting it off a little longer.

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