“All the girl’s stories started out, the-men-came-and-they. And all of the stories finished, -and-then-they-put-me-in-here” (Cleave). Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave is infused with hardships and love. Cleave paints a brutal tale as we follow the hardships of the women presented to us. After one horrific encounter two women are thrown together and forced to alter their lives entirely. After a massacre in her native village Little Bee- a Nigerian Refugee- is forced to flee her home and everything she knew. She is followed by a tumultuous cycle of misfortune ranging from the oil war (which no country will acknowledge) to escaping a detention center. Sarah a British magazine editor evolves from a dominant hard woman to delicate and doting mother. Living in an English suburb she searches for an escape from her mistakes and seeks refuge from her mundane lifestyle. Quickly the situation turns sour when Sarah is forced to make a decision between her typical life and atypical sacrifice. Each woman is plagued with adversity and it is their own duty to overcome these problems.
With a desire to hide their identity these women alter their personas in order to survive. In a world that is thriving on each horrible situation Sara is presented with the age-old questions do we act or simply ignore? In an attempt to escape their lives both women are forced to make impulsive life changing decisions. Haunted by the violence that surrounds them these women are united in a fight of their lives.
“We were exiles from reality…we were refugees from ourselves” (Cleave).
As the narrative alternates between the stories of Sarah and Little Bee it is evident that the women each make sacrifices for survival. Chris Cleave’s attempt to tell the story of immigration is poignant and timely. He illuminates the untold stories of a refugee and the hardships each individual faces. As a passionate writer Cleave chooses to paint a brutal story, which is initially bound in political discourse and transforms beautifully into a deep character discussion. The author is able to paint a comparison between two unlikely candidates who are much closer than they believe. Cleave takes the time to examine the rights of others and the politics which surrounds them. The lives of a women in England and women in Nigeria are profoundly different yet he is able to draw comparison through the daily hardships each individual faces. He highlights ideas that many of us choose to ignore. “But take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived” (Cleave). Cleave brings humanity to politics allowing the reader to learn and explore using their own moral compass. Are you willing to sacrifice your life for a stranger?
Book Group Questions:
Discussion Questions Adapted from Simon and Schuster
1. Many of the characters in the story carry their histories with them on their backs. What are the effects of these decisions? How does it affect them mentally and physically? Do any characters ignore their histories and run away from their problems? What are the effects of this?
2. Batman or Charlie is a central character to the book, what is his purpose? As a child he chooses to hide his identity? His innocence allows him to understand each situation and its effects on his life, how does this effect his loved ones?
3. Little Bee learns English in order to survive, what do other characters use as survival mechanisms?
4. Everywhere that Little Bee goes she considers ways to kill herself before the men do; she truly has overcome many different hardships. Does this provide Little Bee with Power? How? Why?
5. If you were Sarah would you make the same sacrifice?
6. In order to disguise her true self Little Bee dresses in baggy mens clothes; yet she makes one transgression, nail polish. This becomes her survival technique, What are some of your survival techniques?
Images courtesy of Lexx
Chris Cleave’s Little Bee: A Novel is available on Amazon for $7.96.
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