book of the month

(I do realize that I'm submitting this review before it's due, but seeing as I'll be out of town the next few days, I'm posting it early!)
"This is a story for sophisticated people, like you." 

For November's Book Club Bloggers Book of the Month, the novel Little Bee was selected. We were instructed not to read anything about the book beforehand: no reviews, no descriptions, no hints, not even the back of the book! So I diligently obeyed and delved into the book.

What follows are my thoughts, which will spoil the story if you haven't read it. But if you're expecting to get a summary and description of characters, you won't find it. This review is for people who have read the book.

*Spoiler Alert* 

"We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived." 

Overall it was really good: a very easy read, fast-paced and full of conversation. There are only a handful of chapters and they alternate back and forth between Little Bee's point of view and Sarah's. I liked Little Bee immensely, I loved the way she told her story, a very sad story yet sprinkled with humor. It took me a while to warm up to Sarah. At first I really liked her and was devastated by the suicide of her husband but when the story starts to unfold and I found out that she'd actually cheated on him, it made it really hard for me to feel as sorry for her. (But that's a personal thing: I'm always uncomfortable reading about infidelity because being faithful and true to the one you love is a big deal to me and I just can't relate to a character who is like that.) But I slowly accepted that not everyone is perfect and that they shouldn't be. I shouldn't dislike Sarah's character simply because of that.

It seems that every time the story starts to stray a little from the past horrors and into the present, Little Bee thinks of how to kill herself in each and every situation in case "the men come." Don't get me wrong, I did not dislike the book because of this (far from it). It's a hard book to read, it should be a hard book to read. The story is not a happy one, but it is an important one. In fact, this is one of those rare stories that starts sad and ends happy (or actually more bittersweet than "happy").

Basically, this is one of those books that could start long controversial, maybe even uncomfortable, discussions. A book that makes you think "would I cut off my finger to save a strange African girl?" It poses lots of questions, lots of heartache. But it's very powerful and wonderfully written. I am really glad I got to read Little Bee's story!

There are several snippets that I would like to quote from the book, but I think this one of a conversation between Little Bee and Batman was my favorite: 

"He said, 'That is the Joker, isn't it?'
'No Charlie. That is the prime minister.'
'Is he a goody or a baddy?'
I thought to myself.
'Half the people think he is a goody and the other half think he is a baddy.'
Charlie giggled. 'That's silly,' he said.
'That is democracy,' I said. 'If you did not have it, you would want it.'" 

Source: Chris Cleave


Krystal said...

"If you did not have it, you would want it" is one of the quotes that stuck with me when it was finished...so applicable with everything.

Tina Crespo said...

you read all these amazing books and i find myself jotting down the titles on post it notes so i can rush to the bookstore and see if they have any of them for me to devour.
yes. that's a run-on sentence.
i just picked up drop city, and had to hurry back home to walk charlie.
are you traveling for thanksgiving? wherever you go, i hope you have a great holiday!!

ps- i finished the swan thieves and totally fell in love with it at the end. i'm half tempted to name the new kitty Leda.

andrea despot said...

aw, thank you! that really means a lot to me that you like my taste in books! i know i'm kind of all over the place with them...
i read drop city a few years ago! i only got it because the cover image was erm, interesting and i liked it... (not sure what yours looks like, but the cover on mine was a circle of nude people laying face down in the grass). i don't remember liking it that much but let me know what you think! maybe i'll give it another shot!
and i'm really really glad that you like the swan thieves!! i got you and someone else to re-read it and you both were really happy that you did, so now i'm all happy :P
and yes, i'm going out of town for thanksgiving. my mom and i are going to hilton head island in south carolina to visit my brother!
ps. i love the idea to name your kitty Leda!!!

Charlotte said...

Thanks for your review, as always! I appreciate your willingness to be involved, in any review. :)

I agree with your thoughts about Sarah's affair. I felt it overshadowed Sarah's bravery, towards the end. On the beach, Sarah was portrayed as a strong, confident woman, but that image was weakened by the convoluted affair. It seemed like Cleave tried to bring the kind of Sarah back at the end, but the ending was so... much... it kind of got lost. But overall, a worthwhile read!

Molly said...

TOTALLY agree with you about Sarah. Once I learned about her affair it overshadowed all her other good points. Infidelity is a tough one for me too...
That being said, I think that her affair + her bravery make her a truly human and believable character. None of us is perfect (as you pointed out). So, I think my ambiguity about Sarah is in fact a testament to Cleave's AMAZING writing and character development.

Great review! It's so fun being in a book club with you. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your great review, I really enjoyed it (and btw I always love the way you take photos of the book in a special way). I am happy to see, how many read along with me and I really think it is a very unusual book and definitely worth reading.

I am already looking forward to the next book club read!

katie said...

thanks for your comment! i knew you had written, and i purposely skipped it in my google reader because i hadn't read the book yet and didn't want to know anything about it. =)

i agree with you, and with char's comment, about sarah -- the affair made me like her less, and having the affair seemed like a cowardly thing to do in a difficult situation in her relationship rather than confronting it, the way she seemed to confront things later in the book. but it shows, too, that her response is never to *truly* confront, never to *truly* face an issue, but to do bold/risky/foolish things -- she has an affair instead of facing a rough marriage, she quits her job rather than evaluating what is best for her career and for the magazine, she throws caution to the wind and moves to nigeria instead of dealing with the aftermath of her husband's death, her lover's frustration, her son's grief, and the collapse of her career. the only genuinely brave thing she ever did was cut off her finger with a machete.

(um, as important and tragic as that makes sarah seem, the book is still TOTALLY little bee's!)