Monday, July 26, 2010

Review of Little Bee

I picked up Little Bee when I was at the airport and looking for a new book. I had no idea what I was buying, and selected it because of its cover (both the artwork and a positive quote from the New York Times Book Review got me (I'm a sucker for those 'winner of this-or-that book award' stickers too)). I figured that it couldn't be a terrible read and would get me through the flight to New York. And I was right.

Little Bee was a totally decent read. Little Bee is the adopted name of a teenage girl who has fled her native Nigeria after witnessing the illegal destruction of her home and the murder of her family by an oil company so they can access vast reserves located under the site of her village. The only reason she is still alive is because of a chance encounter with a British couple who were stupidly vacationing in Nigeria at the time she escaped her village. They are able to bargain for her survival, but at a cost to the couple, both physically and emotionally. Upon their return to the UK, their marriage is falling apart, and the horror of what they witnessed in Nigeria results in the husband's suicide. Little Bee is able to flee to the UK illegally, but is held in a detention center for two years. Upon her release, she contacts the only people she knows (the couple), and the sequence of events that follow are both dramatic and touching.

My brief synopsis is quite linear, but the story is written in flashbacks and from both the perspective of Little Bee and Sarah (the wife of the British couple). And it is very well written - the voices of both characters are genuine and unforced. The story itself has a very nice arc, with a build-up to finding out what the horrible event was that brought Little Bee and Sarah together on the beach in Nigeria, and how Little Bee was able to survive. We don't find out what happened after they parted or how Little Bee made it to the UK until late in the story, after we've already read about the emotional toll that the trauma on the beach took on Sarah and her husband.

In addition to the good writing, the story confronts the larger issues of environmental destruction and immigration, but not in an overwhelming or preachy way. It's the kind of story that would make a great movie. If you're looking for a quick summer read that isn't your typical novel, try this.


1 comment:

ione doigsmith said...

we just read this in my book club and i really liked it, thought it wasn't a clear consensus across the board. one thing that i thought was interesting is that the author (male) chose to tell the story through the eyes of two strong female characters. i find this to be rare in western literature these days.