Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a novel that affected me. I will never be the same again. It changed my perceptions, shattered a bit of my naïveté, and left me heart-broken, shell-shocked, and breathless. It is the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read. That, I know, is a very strong statement. But I have never read a novel with such powerfully rendered characters whose voices are simultaneously real and poetic. Cleave is a genius with words, storyline, and mostly character development. He writes from the perspective of two women – a feat of writing at which I feel many male authors have failed to find success, but does so with compassion and honesty, maintaining the integrity of both characters. Little Bee, particularly, is a character who will stay with me for life. Written as strong, innocent, and yet wise, she embodies perseverance and hope.
Without giving too much away, as this book should be read with an open mind and few preconceptions, Little Bee is an immigrant from Nigeria who in the past shared a traumatic experience with a young British couple and now, they are forever bonded. The book is about the lives of two women, Little Bee and Sarah, converging again. Sometimes the events of our past define us, no matter how hard we try to forget them.
This book will make you uncomfortable at times. In fact, my husband noted that every time he saw me reading it, I was crying. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be read. If not for the poignant story, then at least for the beauty of the prose.
Just make sure you have a box of tissues nearby.
Chris Cleave discusses the development of Little Bee's voice and language: