**Little Bee by Chris Cleave (2008)

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book this good (perhaps since Birds without Wings last September), and I read it a while ago, but even with my weak memory, I can still see Little Bee on the Nigerian beach with her sister and I can see Sarah’s finger chopped off and I can see Nkirura swaying back and forth on the tire swing.  The images, the reality, and the power of this story resonated for weeks.  I simply couldn’t stop thinking about it.   I picked up this book at a friend’s house and read the first two sentences: “Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl.  Everyone would be pleased to see me coming.”  That’s all I needed to buy the book.  And once I started reading, I found myself saying over and over how could he write this well?  How could he pull this off? This is a male author writing a story narrated by a Nigerian girl who learns the “Queen’s English” from reading and listening to the BBC in her cell of a detention center where she spent two years after hiding in the hold of a cargo ship from Africa to Britain.  The other narrator is Sarah, a British magazine editor who had the fortunate–or unfortunate–luck to run into Little Bee on a Nigerian Beach where local thugs were after her.  Little Bee spends the rest of the story running form the men who came for the oil under the ground where she lived.  So this is a story about power, violence, oil, asylum, guilt, grief, and love.  An excerpt from Little Bee’s narration: “Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl.  There was plenty of time for it.  We did not have hurry.  We did not have electricity or fresh water or sadness either, because none of that had been connected to our village yet. . .in that village we did not yet know was built on an oil field and would soon be fought over by men in a crazy hurry to drill down into the oil.  This is the trouble with all happiness–all of it built on top of something that men want (78).”  Aside from the last 50 pages (which almost seemed as if they were written by another author), this book is fabulous and frightening and important.  (fiction)

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