Book Journal: Little Bee by Chris Cleave
January 29 2018
I have had Chris Cleave’s Little Bee for a very long time. I must have read something about it somewhere and decided that it is my kind of book. A few years ago, my sister-in-law bought me a copy of it along with other books because I had put Little Bee on my Amazon list.
When I read the opening line I knew that it really was my kind of book. It goes like this:
“Most days I wish I was a British coin instead of an African girl.”
See, you immediately get the picture. As for me, after reading the first line, I knew this book was so me. A good opening line or a paragraph does that to you.
It took me a few years to get around to reading it though. What made me pick up Little Bee again was that I found another Chris Cleave book at our local Salvation Army shop recently. The Other Hand. I loved the introduction on its back cover. When I started to read its first paragraph, I realised that it was the same book! Little Bee is The Other Hand in the UK.
I’m telling you… Little Bee is one of the best books I have recently read. It is achingly beautiful, tragicomic at times, incredibly vivid and sad, really sad. Well, I didn’t expect it to be light-hearted. Because, you get the picture when you read the first paragraph. And the ending leaves you thinking.
Little Bee was the first Chris Cleave book I have ever read but I assure you he is clearly a master storyteller. I absolutely LOVED the way he weaved all those insignificant tiny little details into the story only to surprise you later on as the story progresses.
Because I loved Little Bee so much, I tracked down a signed American edition of it. It’s already shipped. You know, I’m a collector of my favourite books in American first edition format?
After Little Bee, I wanted to read something a little light-hearted but I started reading Dani Shapiro’s memoir: Slow Motion. Her writing always, always draws me in.
Here’s my highlights from Little Bee:
There is nothing natural about me. I was born—no, I was reborn—in captivity. I learned my language from your newspapers, my clothes are your cast-offs, and it is your pound that makes my pockets ache with its absence.
… a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, ‘I survived’.
Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive.
She was whispering into it in some language that sounded like butterflies drowning in honey.
It was disorientating, like having the entire contents of one’s address book dressed in black and exported into pews in non-alphabetical order.
I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us.
I’m telling you, trouble is like the ocean. It covers two thirds of the world.
To be well in your mind you have first to be free.
You travel here and you travel there, trying to get out from under the cloud, and nothing works, and then one day you realize you’ve been carrying the weather around with you.
Life is extremely short and you cannot dance to current affairs.
Wouldn’t that be funny, if the oil rebels were playing U2 in their jungle camps, and the government soldiers were playing U2 in their trucks. I think everyone was killing everyone else and listening to the same music… That is a good trick about this world, Sarah. No one likes each other, but everyone likes U2.
However long the moon disappears, someday it must shine again.
Death, of course, is a refuge. It’s where you go when a new name, or a mask and cape, can no longer hide you from yourself. It’s where you run to when none of the principalities of your conscience will grant you asylum.
It was the month of May and there was warm sunshine dripping through the holes between the clouds, like the sky was a broken blue bowl and a child was trying to keep honey in it.
We were exiles from reality that summer. We were refugees from ourselves.
I was carrying two cargoes. Yes, one of them was horror, but the other one was hope.
I know that the hopes of this whole human world can fit inside one soul.
This is the forked tongue of grief again. It whispers in one ear: return to what you once loved best, and in the other ear it whispers, move on.
That is the trouble with happiness-all of it is built on top of something that men want.
We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us.
Life is savagely unfair. It ignores our deep-seated convictions and places a disproportionate emphasis on the decisions we make in split seconds.
That is how we lived, happily and without hope. I was very young then, and I did not miss having a future because I did not know I was entitled to one.