Sunday, January 03, 2010
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Publisher: Bond Street Books
ISBN: 978-0-385-66530-8 (0-385-66530-X)
Pub Date: February 10, 2009
The Bible tells us Jesus Christ gave up his life for humankind and indeed, being prepared to give up one's life has become the greatest expression of love between lovers, a parent and child and sometimes even best friends. Having said that, however, I'd like to ask you this: what is the biggest sacrifice you would make, not for a friend, a lover or even a family member, but for a stranger, someone you don't know, someone you will gain nothing from?
Now that's a tough one, isn't it?
Some people are driven to altruistic lengths to help a stranger in need. Many will donate money and time, or both. Some will make radical donations of a healthy kidney or liver to to people in need. Buddhists are well known for a ritual where they take on other people's sufferings, but all these actions, wonderful as they are, are usually premeditated and the giver has had time for prepare himself or herself for this sacrificial gift. Would we be as giving if we're taken by surprise and with an urgency that leaves no room for thinking or planning?
"Little Bee" is the story of two such strangers and how their fates intertwine one fateful summer's day in Nigeria. The central theme of the story examines how despite deep-seated convictions, life unfairly places a disproportionate emphasis on the decisions we make in split seconds.
Other prominent themes in the book include asylum seekers, the state of detention centers in the UK and issues a challenge to its readers to ponder why the word "refugee" has become such an ugly word in today's parlance. For instance, why is it that in late 60's and even early '70's defectors from the then USSR, or other European communists state were cheered on and even celebrated as heroes, but today we balk at having to share our resources with their countrymen. Why do we treat refugees as criminals, locking them away until their cases can be heard? Why do their cases take so long to hear?
The novel is a bittersweet one and told in two voices (the two main female protagonists that we spoke of earlier in the review). This works well because the two women are from opposite sides of the great class divide and by hearing both their voices the reader gets a dual perspective instead of just one. About the characters, I am not sure I could be friends with any of them in real life, but they made for great character studies!
So, to summarize, this is a novel that is sad and yet funny; serious and yet light-hearted; heavy and yet it's only a wisp of a novel...overall a lovely reading experience!
This novel is called "The Other Hand" in the UK and in India and the rest of the sub-continent. Anyone know why novels are sometimes given different titles in different parts of the world?