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For heaven's sake ignore the blurb!
on May 13, 2009
Honestly I don't know what people are thinking when they market books anymore. The blurb on this book would have you believe that it's not only a laugh riot -- except for the beach scene which is "horrific" -- but that it's so remarkably written and in some way so easy to spoil that it all but swears the reader to a code of silence. And in fact, it's none of those things. All those marketing ploys actually do a disservice to an excellent book and if I were the author, I'd hate it that my work was being so misrepresented.
Briefly, "Little Bee" is about a young Nigerian refugee whose very existence changes the lives of a group of English citizens in dramatic ways. It's a good story and well-written but it would be silly of me to say that I don't want to tell you more because I don't want to spoil it for you. That would feel like me saying "I have NO idea what this is about."
It's about sadness. Really. It's not funny, except perhaps in small details where you might find yourself smiling ruefully. It's a sad book filled with sad and often thoughtless people. It's about how we cover our sadness with layers of so-called civilization, wrap our fears in popular culture, and never ever have the opportunity to face any of it and learn to rise above. Little Bee knows how to rise above. She's known how to do it her whole life because there's nowhere to hide in her country. Poverty, abuse and death are common where she is from, and if you don't want them to destroy you, they must be transcended.
I read the first two chapters just waiting for the comedy to begin. I waited for the beach scene with a measure of anxiety. I waited for some enormous surprise which I would long to tell others, but would keep to myself out of a sense of reader's decency. And each time, I found the truth to be something quite different. I'm actually happy about that because, for me at least, it means I was reading a book that might not be dismissed in a year or even a month as some pop cultural flash. It's a book which should make you think about the world and your place in it, and about what we owe to one another as human beings on this increasingly small, spinning globe.
I found it profoundly moving.