Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Discussion with my sister on "Little Bee"

So, I started a literary on-line (facebook) book club. Here's how it works: I sent out a status asking for volunteers, I get some, we propose a book, we read it. Then post status about comments. Well, only my sister and I read it this time around so we had a back and forth over e-mail. For any one who is interested in reading this book and commenting, well, you can do so in the comments section of this post. If you are in the middle of reading this book (or have plans to), we definitely give away a few things in this discussion, so you've been warned (we do tread lightly).

Ok, the book is Little Bee.


Thoughts on Little Bee:

I would never have read this if you hadn't chosen it. I usually don't like
to read novels that grapple with big issues and/or are political. That's
why I'm glad for this group, because I loved Little Bee.

I especially find the style of narration interesting--two first-person
narrators is really hard to do, and is almost a no-no. I have been wanting
to do it for a novel, and was not sure I could. Cleave's use of this makes
me think I can! I love how he was able to create two distinct first person
voices--also really difficult.

Other reviewers have been complaining that the twists of plot seem too
contrived, but it didn't bother me for some reason--although I wasn't sure
if the fact that Charlie hiding set in motion the events that led to Little
Bee's deportation worked for me. That seemed a little too easy that the
police show up, she runs and then they nab her. I was disappointed by that.
Still, I think it's necessary for the story for her to return--necessary for
the redemptive note at the end.

The book terrified me and disturbed me in an intense physical way and I
never let a book get to me like that, but this one did. It haunts me still.
Read most of it in a period of a few hours sitting in a playground riveted.
I love how fiction can be my gateway into history and politics. I never
knew about these oil wars in Nigeria. And how badly immigrants are
treated. I never really knew this. And it motivates me--how can I help
others in Little Bee's situation?

Also, did you know that Nicole Kidman has secured the rights to the book to
make a movie? She wants to play the character of Sarah O'Rourke.


Julie, thanks for your comments...

What's funny is that I love reading novels that tackle big issues like this :-). I chose it specifically because it was an immigration issue - something I'm really interested in.

Hmmm, I wish you would comment on facebook so that others can get the benefit of your commentary... Do you think?

Maybe I can start a fb chat with only those who are reading it... Maybe no one else is reading it.

I agree with your point about Charlie getting lost causing the deportation, that didn't even seem right to me. I don't think the police would have bothered in reality with that... Do you?

I guess I'm not sure, but I don't get the sense that illegal immigrants are that much on the cusp of being deported... but I could be wrong.

I also agree about the Nigerian oil conflicts - I had no idea.

I was riveted, and I love that sensation...


I suspected you did!

Where should I comment on Fb?

What’s happens in AZ? Aren’t illegals immediately deported when found out? Didn’t some harsh anti-immigration law just get passed?

Did you read the commentary after the novel about what motivated Chris Cleave to write this?


I was imagining just the comments section of my original fb post, but maybe I'll start a group message.. Give me another day to see if anyone else has (or is planning to) read it.

There was a bill that was just passed awaiting governor's signature. Our governor still has yet to decide. Its depressing really.

I know there are sweeps, etc... But I don't get the feeling its exceptionally agressive. There was a guy in our ward that was in our ward for a long time. Working, he was about to get married and he moved out.

A few months later I heard he was deported - I had no idea he was even here illegally. But it seems like you can get away with staying here for quite a long time without issues...

But I'm not intimate with it, and England could be different.


I could put it there. I have to sound smarter though.

It’s an intense book. Anyone who is esp sensitive or easily offended should probably not read it.

I wonder as well about the detention centers—what the conditions are like. Do they have them in the states? And who stays in them and for how long.

Chris Cleave muses about globalization in the back of the book—did you read his interview? He said that now with globalization, money can traverse borders but people can’t. What if it were the other way around? Where people could travel freely, but money could not.

Just this issue of deportation—can’t people get political asylum? I don’t understand automatic deportation, especially when someone has risked life and limb for relative freedom and safety. And how does one immigrate legally under circumstances that are so desperate? I want these questions answered!!



Your comments sounded incredibly intelligent to me! :-). My problem is that I read it on my kindle (ipod version of the kindle) and the interview wasn't there.

I believe we do have detention centers in the States, but I don't know much about them. I think most people from Mexico, at least, are deported immediately.

Regarding globalization, at the very least, I would like to see people have similar freedom to travel as money. Also, I think if we wanted to deal with ruthless dictators, rather than invade, how about provide asylum for refugees?

Its just that people have a lot of fear and nobody wants to take on difficult caseloads.

I agree its an intense book and I felt like there were a lot of issues that were dealt with. Another issue was the juxtaposition of one person's very real, third world struggle to survive, with an upper middle class couple's struggle to find meaning in a world of suburbia blandness? Or something like that.

But its odd, that this collision provoked the husband's death.

And that sex, to me, was such a strong theme. The rape of Little Bee's sister. The sex of the Haitian girl was what sprung the girls out of the detention center. It was Sarah's affair that prompted the trip to Nigeria to begin with... Then the ongoing affair after the incident on the beach. Even Sarah's magazine was about sex, when it was initially started as a magazine about stories to have an impact.

I'm not sure how much of that was intentional, but I think it was just Nigeria's raw violence and brutality butted up against this English couple's quest at meaning when everything around them was just a little too easy, too perfect.

I think the world's problems can be so overwhelming, maybe we shield ourselves from them or are at risk to get consumed by them.


Ooh, good to know about some limitations of the Kindle!!

I thought your discussion about the thematic of sex was very astute. Little Bee is outside of these concerns, as is Charlie—the only two characters in the book really. The fact that she manages to travel through the novel without any profound physical harm is kind of remarkable and there’s something of a magical realist element in the long journeys she is physically able to make—would it REALLY be possible to WALK from that detention center to the suburbs of London?? But Little Bee and Charlie have this special connection—and Little Bee has this innocence/purity that Charlie has—they are also characters that have assumed other names and identities; they are both in hiding to some degree. Moving away from the sexual theme though, the narrative made me think of one of my former professor’s discussions of race in books, and the ways in which “black bodies” are used to connect white bodies. Black bodies are often used as a “go betweens” in narratives, they negotiate between physical and spiritual realms or between two people who can’t connect. (A big example my professor used was the Whoopie Goldberg character in the movie Ghost.) I saw Little Bee operating this way, and sometimes what I’ve come to know as this cliché of that bothered me. I do like how she becomes problematic when she admits that she witnessed the death of Andrew, but I thought her guilt about not being able to ultimately save him seemed a little off. As if the author was trying to hard to make her have some kind of “problem” and thus become a more complex character. But maybe that’s just me.

Isn’t there political asylum for refugees? Or is it just difficult to obtain this? I must research this further.


Julie, I think we do have political asylum, but I'm guessing its not so easy to get... I think its hard, nobody (especially in developed countries) want to take on a bunch of political refugees - and in time of a lot of political turmoil and violence, you can get a bunch.

I remember hearing stories during WWII about Jewish refugees who had trouble finding countries to take them. Is this true?

Also, I think we're finding similar problems with Iraqi refugees.

These are just massive problems, we don't want to face.

Why do you think black people are used that way in literature? I guess they are viewed as the other, with extra special abilities, maybe?

Yeah, I agree, I was disappointed to find out the way Little Bee chose to present herself to Andrew and how she in some kind of way pushed him to suicide and couldn't really help him (afraid she would get caught and deported).

I think the fear of deportation is obviously real by the way. I know here, crime among immigrants go under-reported for this reason.

But I guess giving Little Bee this problem kind of put her on the level with Lawrence, who both wanted access to this family that wasn't really theirs...

But I agree, I liked "Little Bee" as this completely innocent almost other-worldly figure... Having that problem kind of put her down at everyone's level.

But to some extent, it made her more human, much more like the others. I guess for me, just because you're from Nigeria doesn't make you any less human... I think a big part of it was the developed world's attempts to ignore the third world, to view the population as something else, maybe less human.

I see that a lot, anyway, in the immigration debates I've having with those from Mexico.

Just some random thoughts.


proud parents said...

I've only read the first couple chapters so far. Have a bit of commentary I've already planned to write--gotta find the time. I admit I'm a little hesitant to continue for certain reasons. But I find it a compelling read, very well written so far.

tempe turley said...

Thanks! Whatever you feel comfortable doing is fine, would love to hear your commentary. I think we're going to try to come up with another book soon...