Friday, July 08, 2011

Book Review: Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave

With many of my book friends insisting that I read "Little Bee" and online reviews that boast phrases such as "The next Kite Runner" and "Cleave is a nerves-of-steel storyteller of stealthy power, and this is a novel as resplendent and menacing as life itself." (Booklist) and  "Every now and then, you come across a character in a book whose personality is so salient and whose story carries such devastating emotional force it's as if she becomes a fixed part of your consciousness. So it is with...Chris Cleave's brilliant and unforgettable Little Bee." (The Oregonian) and "Expect astonishment, for this is a work inspiring in depth and style; a work that alters perceptions." (Bookslut). Little Bee by Chris Cleave just so happened to be included on Audible's 'paperback' sale this week and it seemed like fate to listen to it this week.

The Publishers' Summary:
British couple Andrew and Sarah O'Rourke, vacationing on a Nigerian beach in a last-ditch effort to save their faltering marriage, come across Little Bee and her sister, Nigerian refugees fleeing from machete-wielding soldiers intent on clearing the beach. The horrific confrontation that follows changes the lives of everyone involved in unimaginable ways.
Two years later, Little Bee appears in London on the day of Andrew's funeral and reconnects with Sarah. Sarah is struggling to come to terms with her husband's recent suicide and the stubborn behavior of her four-year-old son, who is convinced that he really is Batman. The tenuous friendship between Sarah and Little Bee that grows, is challenged, and ultimately endures is the heart of this emotional, tense, and often hilarious novel.
Considered by some to be the next Kite Runner, Little Bee is an achingly human story set against the inhuman realities of war-torn Africa. Wrenching tests of friendship and terrible moral dilemmas fuel this irresistible novel.

Let me begin by mentioning that I've been to Nigeria (actually to the airport in Abuja) while en route to Cameroon (which was an experience all in its own actually) and even the airport in Nigeria was a scary place to be, even for a short amount of time. As an American I'm appalled at the atrocities that are so common in  military states, corruption and greed continually triumphing over humanity. How entire villages and generations are disposable when they become inconvenient. As sheltered (and spoiled) Americans, I don't think we'll ever feel comfortable surrounded by soldiers with automatic weapons - yet that is the way of life for many on the African continent.

Based on the hype and glowing reviews of Little Bee, I expected so much more of the novel. I went in with high expectations of a compelling, gripping and life-altering novel. I never had that feeling with Little Bee, no matter how hard I tried given the subject matter. The hardship and the reality of fictional Little Bee's life is of course the reality of many women and children from third world countries - and perhaps some not so third world countries too. That the story could be based on a real-life Bee should have been enough to compel the reader to emphasize with the characters, but there was something missing in the quality of the characters. It was almost that they were only superficially sympathetic - single dimensional women. In fact now that I've had a few hours to digest the novel, I'm not sure I felt that Bee or Sarah were particularly believable even as women - an effect of a male writer capturing female characters perhaps?

Little Bee was unique story, and could have been one of those "earth-shattering" novels - but it wasn't to be. There is a lot of potential that goes uncaptured, unsaid and undone and ultimately I was disappointed  at the implementation. Would I recommend Little Bee? Maybe - it'd depend - probably not.

Anne Flosnik's narration was competent, I don't think I'd see the novel differently if the narration had been better. Ms. Flosnik seemed to move seamlessly between Bee and Sarah, though I do not believe she captured the accent correctly and at times her Bee voice sounded a bit like a broken Asian-English accent instead of an African-English variant - of course this distraction doesn't apply to the book format of the novel.

Little Bee was written by Chris Cleave, narrated by Anne Flosnik and published by Tantor Audio. Little Bee has an audible release date of April 14th, 2009 and a runtime of 10 hours 44 minutes.

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