I’m sipping a steaming cup of steeped chai tea and enjoying a slice of freshly baked Date Bread on this positively balmy morning. After a stint of -16 (feels like -30) days, the fact that it will reach a high of -8 this afternoon is thrilling for me - I can finally get outside for a good long walk without the fear of incurring frostbite!
We had a volunteer book club meeting yesterday, where we discussed Chris Cleave’s bestseller, Little Bee. I had a copy of this book in my own collection because it is a popular selection for book clubs, but I didn’t have any idea what it was about, so when I added it to our list to start off the new year, I was really going into it blindly. Thankfully, everyone seemed to either love it, or like parts of it well enough to finish it and contribute meaningfully to the discussion. This book is told from alternating points of view. Little Bee is a sixteen-year-old Nigerian girl who comes to the UK to escape certain death at the hands of soldiers. Sarah is a woman in her mid-thirties living in the suburbs of London, editor of an edgy women’s magazine, mother of four-year-old Charlie (aka “Batman”) and wife of Andrew, a journalist for one of the more intellectual papers (I can’t remember which one, maybe the Times). Little Bee and Sarah met two years earlier on a beach in Nigeria, near Little Bee’s village, when Sarah and Andrew had been on holiday. A horrific event from that time unites them, and when Little Bee is released from the UK detention centre, she seeks out the only people she knows in England. Their futures, bound together, are irrevocably altered, and it is left to the reader to discover the lengths to which one person will go to save another. Sorry if this is vague, but I don’t want to give anything away, since part of the enjoyment of the book is the sense of discovery we feel as we piece the story together. It was the most successful book club choice we’ve had in a long time, which is great for me to hear, as there's alot of pressure when selecting books, always wondering if people will like the book you chose. During the past few meetings, our discussions have wandered away from the books frequently and for long periods, and I think it was partly due to the lack of interest or enjoyment in these selections, but for this book, we managed to stay on topic and find things to discuss for nearly two hours! Here are some of the highlights from our lengthy discussion. We all enjoyed the book, and agreed that it was well-written (one member said the writing was “beyond amazing”). Some of us enjoyed one narrator more than the other, while others enjoyed the whole book equally. We all agreed that Sarah and Lawrence were bland, wishy-washy characters, unable to make firm decisions, and inconsistent in their actions when they do decide on something. They seemed to lack common sense, and were blind to the realities of the world. Even when faced with these realities, they refused to believe them or to believe that they could be affected by them. We agreed that Andrew wasn’t a very nice person, either to his wife or his son. One member felt that this story was unpredictable, that she didn’t expect and was surprised by many of the things that happened. We agreed that Little Bee was wise beyond her years, and that some of the things she observed revealed great insight into the workings of the world. One of the members used the term “paradoxical duality” to describe the horrendous contrasts in the novel, times when the author describes what one thinks or believes and contrasts it with the reality of the situation. There are many of these contrasts throughout the book, and they are both shocking and revealing. One member said she learned alot about the horrors of detention centres. Through our discussion, we identified a common thread running through the story, the beach, and noted that the beach was never a safe place, that unpredictable things happened on the beach, and we thought that the beach, unlike the tourist compound, represented the “real “ Nigeria. One member felt that the book was very disturbing, but also addictive - it was hard to put down, but she had to put it down. We discussed the fact that these horrors are part of human history, that destruction and bloodshed has been taking place for centuries, actually since the beginning of time. We discussed Little Bee’s need to find ways to kill herself in any situation, and that while she planned her death, she also fought death and fought to survive. There were humourous bits in this book, too, particularly some of the things Little Bee says or observations she makes, the way she expresses herself when contrasting customs or traditions in England with those of her village (she compares British children hiding between the washing machine and the refrigerator and pretending to be in the jungle with African children hiding in the jungle and pretending to have a washing machine and a fridge). There was so much more that we discussed, but I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out what happens. It was a great book club selection, and I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in reading about the immigrant experience.
That’s all for today. Enjoy the warm-ish temperatures, and keep reading!
Bye for now…