Chapter by chapter, alternating between Little Bee’s voice and Sarah’s, Chris Cleave wholly and caringly portrays two very different women trying to cope with events they’d never imagined. Little Bee is experiencing all the fullness and emptiness of the rich world for the first time, and her observations are hopeful, charming and piercing: “Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl,” she says: “Everyone would be pleased to see me coming.”
Sarah is more cynical and disheartened, a successful magazine editor trying to find meaning in the face of turmoil at home and work. As the story develops, however, we learn about what matters most to her, including her fierce, protective love for her funny little son (“From the Spring of 2007 until the end of that long summer when Little Bee came to live with us,” Sarah says, “my son removed his Batman costume only at bathtimes.”). Sarah is trying to find herself as much as Little Bee is — and, unexpectedly, each character discovers a ray of hope in the other.
What follows when Little Bee comes back into Sarah’s life is a powerful story of reconciliation and healing, but it is mixed in with a generous helping of satire about the daily difficulties of modern life. This is a novel about important issues, from refugee policy to the devastating effects of violence, but more than that, it does something only great fiction can: Little Bee teaches us what it is like to live through experiences most of us think of only as far off disasters in the news.
As ever, the author says it best: “It’s an uplifting, thrilling, universal human story, and I just worked to keep it simple. One brave African girl; one brave Western woman. What if one just turned up on the other’s doorstep one misty morning and asked, Can you help? And what if that help wasn’t just a one-way street?”
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Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead — but you would not be sad...
1. What is the importance of names — real and assumed — in Little Bee?
2. What are Sarah and Little Bee like? Whose company do you prefer, and why?
3. What do Sarah and Little Bee learn from each other?
4. Little Bee is funny and endearing, but also full of painful...
-The Bookseller (UK)