I discovered Little Bee by Chris Cleave on someone else’s top books of 2009 list. I think the cover might have hooked me actually, as much as the recommendation. Which should show you that I’m kind of an easy sell for a book.
School was called off because of sleet today and while Taido walked the icy streets with our crew, I curled into the couch and became completely immersed in this story.
Little Bee is a refugee from Nigeria and by far the most powerful part of the writing of this story is her voice. The chapters are alternatively narrated by her and another woman with whom her life has crossed paths.
It is one of those stories about which it is best not to know too much before you begin it. So I will not say much, but here is a little excerpt of the eloquent voice this author has given to a precious 16 year old girl from a small African village.
In your country, if you are not scared enough already, you can go to watch a horror film. Afterward you can go out of the cinema into the night and for a little while there is horror in everything. Perhaps there are murderers lying in wait for you at home. You think this because there is a light on in your house that your are certain you did not leave on. And when you remove your makeup in the mirror last thing, you see a strange look in your own eyes. It is not you. For one hour you are haunted, and you do not trust anybody, and then the feeling fades away. Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it.
For me and the girls from my village, horror is a disease and we are sick with it. It is not an illness you can cure yourself of by standing up and letting the big red cinema seat fold itself up behind you. That would be a good trick. If I could do that, please believe me, I would already be standing in the foyer. I would be laughing with the kiosk boy, and exchanging British one-pound coins for hot buttered popcorn, and saying, Phew, thank the Good Lord all that is over, that is the most frightening film I ever saw and I think next time I will go to see a comedy, or maybe a romantic film with kissing. But the film in your memory, you cannot walk out of so easily. Wherever you go it is always playing. So when I say that I am a refugee, you must understand that there is no refuge.
Some days I wonder how many there are just like me. Thousands, I think, just floating on the oceans right now. In between our world and yours. If we cannot pay smugglers to transport us, we stow away on cargo ships. In the dark, in freight containers. Breathing quietly in the darkness, hungry, hearing the strange clanking sounds of ships, smelling the diesel oil and the paint, listening to the bom-bom-bom of the engines. Wide-awake at night, hearing the singing of the whales rising up from the deep sea and vibrating through the ship. All of us whispering, praying, thinking. And what are we thinking of? Of physical safety, of peace of mind. Of all these imaginary countries that are now being served in the foyer.
I believe Little Bee’s voice will haunt me for a long time.
Also, I think her oft-used phrase That would be a good trick is going to move right up in my world in the same way the phrase It’s time to do the skedaddle has forever become a part of my vernacular with friends who have also read the story of the Walls’ family.