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Little Bee

Cleave, Chris

(Book Club Kit - 2008)
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Little Bee
A haunting novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers--one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, c2008
Characteristics: 10 books (271 p. ; 22 cm.) and 1 reading guide in a plastic tote


From Library Staff

The fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-to-do British couple are inextricably woven together after a brutal encounter on a beach in Nigeria where the couple are vacationing. Little Bee (the name the orphan chooses to call herself) is an unforgettable voice, fabulously rendered by A... Read More »

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Jul 06, 2011
  • brianreynolds rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

A respected teacher once told me the term "tragedy" might derive from the Greek "tragoidia," which he translated as "song of the goat," perhaps a reference to the tale of a scapegoat. Tragedies seem rare in literature. There's plenty of sadness and death, of course, but not much of it ritual in nature, not many deaths able to bring about positive change in a community, few stories that show both the pain of the sacrificial offering and the agony of her executioner. Little Bee reads from the start like it fits the archetype.

The adolescent who narrates half the book is resigned from the first chapter to her fate, and that resignation makes the novel much more chilling than the acts of horror and apathy, greed and ignorance that accompany her journey to the alter. Although she is articulate, she is without power, nameless until the moment of her death, as trapped by honour as by fear. Much has been said about the great surprises in this book. I think honest readers could be no more surprised at how it plays out than audiences who watch Julius Caesar greet the Ides of March. A person obsessed with suicide as the only viable alternative to death by torture, does not have much hope for her future.

Her executioner is a very imperfect mother, business woman, wife, mistress with the best of intentions, yet the perfect representative of all that is white and powerful, Western and "civilized." She is a woman who can't ignore the flashing light that signals her gas tank is empty, even though it is the same petroleum that requires the death of her Nigerian "friend." But Sarah is more than inept, more that hypocritical. She is also the element of hope in this tragedy. Her planned book about the immigration situation in Britain is the light at end of this dark tale, the promise that this death won't be anonymous and pointless as so many others seem to be. This one will lead to change, a new awareness and social consciousness.

Like most readers, I looked for "outs" to forestall the inevitable. I questioned motives and behaviours. Was this or that logical? Maybe it was or wasn't. I was so involved in the ritual that I couldn't be an objective reader about details. I think that is the secret of tragedy: a belief is required that this particular death is important, this goat is not just an ordinary goat. It has the power to transform its community. The power to transform the reader.

Oct 05, 2010
  • npcr rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Well written book but was disturbing on a very emotional level. Our book club enjoyed it on the whole but it made me feel emotionally wrung out and terribly sad.


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