We had a lovely time discussing Carla’s choice, Little Bee by Chris Cleave. In honour of the Nigerian theme, Beth treated us to African cassava and plantain chips, samosas, banana cake and coconut macaroons, along with Canadian cheeses and Mediterranean olives. The house was decorated with African photos, including one of a beach, so important to the story. Carla, Betty, Colette, Jane, Linda, Janet, Jolene, and Beth were in attendance.
Carla explained that Chris Cleave is 38 years old and works as a journalist in London, England. The character Charlie was loosely based on Cleave’s young son. Incendiary was Cleave’s award-winning first novel. Little Bee was published under the title The Other Hand in the UK. Cleave’s writing is based on real-life events that have impacted him personally, including the story of an Angolan refugee who hanged himself to save his son from deportation from England in 2001, and also Cleave’s student work in a detention camp. He explains that he tries to write about serious matters in an accessible way, incorporating humour when possible. He is not trying to treat dark subjects lightly, but hopes instead to expose darkness to the light.
Almost all the ladies said that they would not have picked this book up originally had it not been a club choice, but in the end most appreciated it for its educational value. The “Greek chorus” of girls back home in Nigeria was one interesting aspect of the author’s writing style. On the other hand, the beach scenes were very disturbing, even causing nightmares. The book did provide insight into the plight of many refugees and caused us to think about how insulated we are in our democratic society, where environmental issues are discussed long before people and natural resources are severely impacted. We also commented on the contrasts: two worlds, two English dialects, two points of view. Sarah and Lawrence were unpopular, though the moral choices of all of the characters made for interesting discussion. There was disagreement over the ending. Most felt that Little Bee would not survive, though the author (and Carla and Jolene) were more optimistic.
For homework, we decided to try an idea from the author himself. He suggests that we make up proverbs of our own, and come prepared to recite them gravely next book club. As Little Bee says, “I have noticed, in your country, I can say anything so long as I say that is the proverb in my country.” (page 180)
January will also be our “Academy Awards” night, so get your votes to Michèle, using the list at the side of this blog. While you’re looking at the 2013 titles, be aware that the order of 2014 choices and houses is under review. One other assignment: Beth suggests discussing the first line of every book club choice in the coming year. Good ones should generally not begin with a discussion of weather (the “dark and stormy night” idea).