Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

I have to say it: This book is why I started this blog. This book, and the small circle of other great novels that leave you feeling charged and changed at the end are why I'm typing these words. Why I've always pestered my friends, pleading, "Read this! Read this!" Yes, in writing about "Little Bee" I'm a little "farklempt," as Barbra would say. And what can I say, except that this is the best, the most compellingly perfect novel I've read in a long, long time.

I must admit I didn't really want to read "Little Bee." I love reading about far-off cultures, but, to be honest, I just didn't feel up to reading another book set in Africa. The never ending violence, the unstable governments, the widespread hunger, they all leave me feeling so hopeless. And, of course, the U.S. always shows up as a minor character, fueling friction between waring groups, sticking its dirty, monied hand into the pot. So when I read a book set in Africa, not only do I face hopelessness, I feel guilty, too.

About the plot - there is very little I want to say here. When I listened to this audiobook I hadn't heard a thing about the storyline, and the surprise was just delicious. Given that, I will say that the story is told in two voices. There is the title character of Nigerian refugee Little Bee, whose lyrical and wise-beyond-her-years voice is beautifully captured. And then there is Sarah, the yuppie magazine editor, whose path crosses Little Bee's. Unlike Little Bee, Sarah is not a completely likable character, but in the details revealed about each of the characters, the author renders them both completely believable.

Cleave kept me breathless with suspense and a pace that never let up, and all this with prose that just stunned. My favorite line, spoken by Little Bee: "I did not want to tell her what happened, but I had to now. I could not stop talking, because now I had started my story, and it wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us." Gulp.

Chris Cleave has masterful storytelling skills. I am so convinced you will love this book that I'm almost inclined to offer a refund to anyone who doesn't. I so rarely fall completely head-over-heels for a book. Please read it!

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