mstan's Reviews > Little Bee

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
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Feb 11, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: src-spring-2012, british, public-transport
Read from April 17 to 20, 2012

The story begins promisingly enough, with Little Bee, a Nigerian immigrant to the UK, being 'released' from the immigrant detention centre along with a few other women. She has only one place to go - the home of a white man she had met on a beach in Nigeria - and you want to find out the whys and hows of the matter because everything's just plain odd.

Then you realise the chapters alternate between the voice of Little Bee and that of the white man's wife, Sarah, a woman who's supposed to be a magazine editor (complementing her husband's career as a journalist oh-so-nicely), whose 'love' for her Batman-playing son rings false, and whose sympathy for Little Bee never feels believable either.

The whole time I was reading this book, I couldn't help questioning my own reading preferences - if I would only read books about the developing world that were written by people who'd lived there or been immersed in that society for a while. I am not surprised to learn that Cleave is a journalist. Even what were intended to be the most affecting scenes of the book remained oddly clinical... and while I get that part of the point is to highlight the gap between the white woman's self-centredness and the vastness of the problems Africa is grappling with, the fact that this was written from an essentially white perspective made everything feel presumptuous and condescending to me.

After all, Andrew was supposed to be a hotshot journalist. How could you expect the reader to believe that he'd acquiesced to his wife's suggestion to visit Nigeria for a beach holiday on a last-minute whim? If Cleave had meant to highlight the blustering ignorance of the white populace, would it perhaps not have been better to have chosen a different profession for Andrew instead of wanting the best of all worlds - the worldliness and cynicism of the 'seasoned journalist' as well as the shock factor of armed soldiers with festering wounds appearing at a beach resort?
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