Little Bee is a book about a teenage Nigerian girl who escaped a massacre of her village and ended up in an English immigration detention center. She got out of the center by dubious means, not of her own doing. The only people she knew in England were a couple who happened to witness some of the atrocity in Nigeria during a vacation, so she went to find them to help her out.
Little Bee is a complex book. It tries to describe the horror of the massacre, which was meant to remove the local villages so that the oil companies could easily come in to drill for oil. It also tries to describe the horror of the immigration detention centers in England which basically put all sorts of foreigners in prison who haven’t committed any crimes, such as this young girl. It attempts to portray these horrors as a backdrop to a sort of soap opera story of the couple and their affairs and problems and batman costumes and what all.
It is written in the style of Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible” where every other chapter was written from the perspective of a different person. In this case it was only two people, Little Bee and Sarah. One of our book club members listened to the audio version of the book and found this to be quite satisfying since Little Bee had a Nigerian/Queen of England accent and Sarah had an English accent. For those of us who read it, it was at times difficult to tell who was talking.
For some reason, their child would only wear a batman costume. I think this was meant to be symbolic. Little Charlie felt that he could only win the fight against the “baddies” if he were Batman. I suppose you could find all sorts of metaphors for this costume-wearing child, but it just seemed weird for the most part.
There were other peculiarities about this book. Sarah takes her son Charlie with her to help Little Bee, even though her last trip to Nigeria with her husband almost got them both killed. Sarah’s lover; Laurence, shows up at her house the day of her husband’s funeral with plans to stay the weekend. Seems rather crude! Another peculiarity is near the end when the local soldiers shoot at Charlie, who’s running on the beach towards Little Bee. Did they think this five year old was going to get away?!
The ending was left open, not knowing what happens to Little Bee. Up until the end, she had been quite resourceful in keeping herself alive and so you really wanted to see how she ended up, but all that happens is the local police catch up with her and that’s it. It bothered some people more than others. You could simply make up your own ending and decide for yourself if she was released and lived happily ever after, or was detained again, or was executed. I think some people were just glad that the book was finished.
All in all, it was a complicated book with a good solid structure, but not well written. The atrocities in Nigeria and in the detention centers were touched on, but it was hard to really get a grasp on them. The soap opera of the couple’s lives was a bit distracting. It was hard to tell what the story was supposed to be about. The odd peculiarities made you wonder what was going on because it was hard to tell what the point of them was.
Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible” had a very similar structure and was very well done. I think it may have spoiled us a bit for reading this book. In fact, next month we’re going to read another book by her – “Flight Behaviour”.