Review of Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Little Bee

by Chris Cleave

read by Anne Flosnik

Tantor Audio, 2009. 11 hours. 9 compact discs.
Starred Review.

This is not a cheery story. A few weeks earlier, I checked out the book on Hot Picks, but I saw it was going to have some awful scenes, so I decided not to read it. However, when I began listening to the audio version, I was utterly enchanted.

Two different characters take turns narrating the story. The first, Little Bee, is an illegal refugee to the United Kingdom from Africa. She takes up the tale to tell what happened when she was released from the Immigration Detention Center after two years. Her African accent is mesmerizing. Her way of looking at the world is captivating. Her images are delightful. Her story is terrible, but she has an inner light that shines in spite of all that happened to her.

Sarah is the other narrator. With her proper British accent, she tells what happened on the day Little Bee showed up at her house, the day of her husband Andrew’s funeral. She had met Little Bee two years before, on a beach in Nigeria, on a day that changed all their lives.

Now, in a suburb of London, Sarah is left with her four-year-old son who refuses to remove his Batman costume. Sarah has two, so one can be cleaned while he’s wearing the other. Little Charlie is so realistic, so funny, and so pathetic, as he represents all of them wearing a secret identity.

The two women tell their stories out of sequence, so by the time you find out what happened on the beach, you are completely enthralled, wanting desperately to know every detail. The storytelling is masterfully done, with wonderful images that make you look at life with a fresh perspective.

I have to admit that this book included one of the most horrible scenes I have ever imagined. It didn’t even end happily. But I loved the book. Anne Flosnik doing Little Bee’s voice completely won me over right from the start. Hearing the words with an African accent gave them much more power than when I tried to read the print version myself. I liked Little Bee right away, and wanted to hear her story.

This book has some tough issues, so it’s not for everyone. But it is superbly crafted, and I highly recommend it. Especially the audio version, which is exquisite.

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