Friday, September 24, 2010

Little Bee, A Book

In the post that immediately preceded this one, I vowed to stop listening to the part of my self that resists the reading of books that may turn out to be painful.  As a direct result, I'm sure, the Universe brought me Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

This is not a review.  If you'd like one, the NYTimes has a very fine example at

I can foretell a Book Club Future for Little Bee because when I went to the trusty Cleveland Public Library website to request it, I found myself #72 in the queue. And the books themselves: charged out, "on hold for someone," and "being transfered between libraries."  Moving in the mysterious dance of a book catching on, catching fire.

This is a very, very good thing.

It's good because Little Bee is a book to make its readers kinder to their fellow humans.  And we are more in need of human kindness than maybe anything else in this world.   

Little Bee is a sixteen-year-old Nigerian refugee. At the beginning of the novel she is being held in a detention center in England.  She is such a lovely, fierce, brilliant, funny, courageous human being that even as her story hammers us with the cruelty and callousness she has learned to endure, she draws us inside her spirit.  She warms us, eases our pain, gives us hope.

The book isn't about just her, of course. It's about our good familiar world of workday commutes. It's about relationships. Infidelity.  Regret.  Parenting.  Making tea.  It's about comfy first world people confronting a devastating third world reality in their own nicely appointed living room.

Little Bee reminded me how we accommodate other people's suffering by secretly believing they somehow did something to deserve or at least explain it. Or that perhaps they don't really mind it so much after all.

It lays bare our secret fear that if these people don't deserve it, then maybe we aren't immune.  It tells the truth about what it's like to endeavor to make a difference when any difference you can make is insufficient.  When all a human being can do is bear witness.  With love.  And infinite respect.

Okay.  I liked it.  It's a delightful, terrible, beautiful, ugly, transcendent book.  Buy a copy.

Tell your book club about it.

Uhoh.  This may have been a review.

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