You might presume that the only thing an African girl, a Nigerian refugee named Little Bee could have in common with a 4-year old boy, Charlie, who thinks he's Batman, his anguished father and his 9-fingered, mother Sarah, would be something political, something tied to the off-the-grid machinations that surround the international oil market. Or perhaps you’d think it’s a story that gives a view of the unimaginable gulf that exists between first and third world countries, or maybe, you’d think it was something to do with the precarious plight of refugees. And the story of Little Bee does pull in threads from each of these compelling issues. But there’s also that missing finger. And then Sarah loses something else, her husband, in fact, who is also Charlie’s anguished father, to suicide. A mere two years after they have vacationed, in of all places, Nigeria. It was there that they met Little Bee, when they were accosted by mercenaries on a beach where they had no real business being. They were attempting to save their marriage, to find out whether it was even worth saving. Instead in the brutal reflected glare of sun struck blue water, they are forced into a horrible moral quandary; they are called on to act heroically before witnesses. A line is drawn and there is nothing to do but cross it and it can’t ever again be recrossed. It is edge of the seat reading at this point. And the situation is so vividly, so poignantly rendered.
There are glints of humor sprinkled throughout the pages, small gifts that surprise and delight. Moments that are sly, droll. You can’t help but smile. Take the opening line for instance: “Most days I wish I was a British pound instead of an African girl.”
Chris Cleave has written an altogether lovely book, a book that haunts, a book that leaves a question: Will it ever be possible, for all of our sakes, to forget what makes us different and to see only what we share as human beings, a longing for home, a place where we can live free and be safe.