I picked this up on a whim at a used book shop. The cover was nice and the first page was really intriguing. I got into it right away, and the story starts out with an incredibly compelling narrator, Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee escaping to England for asylum after a terrible event occurs in her village.
As the story unfolds, however, the plot goes crazy-pants and we’re introduced to a second narrator, Sarah, a British magazine editor who met Little Bee through terrible circumstances on a vacation to a Nigerian resort. I will spare you the crazy-pants plot in case you do want to read it, but suffice it to say that at around the meeting of the two women, I was about done with this plot, and it only got worse from there. The ending is also ridiculously unsatisfying. But all that aside, my biggest gripe with this was Sarah’s narrative. She’s literally not necessary to this story, to the point where if you removed all her chapters, and made a few minor changes, Little Bee’s story would be complete and awesome, even in its tragedy.
Cleave writes Little Bee beautifully; she’s compelling, nuanced, realistic and allows us to empathize with her instead of sympathizing. She’s a fresh new voice on the subject of the refugee crisis, and I really enjoyed her chapters, even through the tragedy and hardship. Sarah, on the other hand, is flat and shallow. Maybe this was on purpose, to give us a juxtaposition between Little Bee and Sarah, but it doesn’t come across that way, and Sarah’s chapters often just rehash things that Little Bee already covered. Sarah’s viewpoint is basically useless, on top of the fact that she’s pretty shallow and makes awful decisions. No matter how hard Cleave wrote her to be self-aware, it just comes off as unreliability, and at the end of the day, Sarah feels like the white savior. While she’s ultimately a failure, and that is to Cleave’s credit, her character’s perspective detracts from Little Bee’s story and shifts the focus away from the crisis Cleave was trying to showcase.
2.5 stars for Little Bee’s narration. -2.5 for Sarah and her ridiculousness.