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I've just now finished Chris Cleave's "Little Bee", a book about a young and very emotionally-mature Nigerian refugee's life after fleeing her home country. Cleave, a journalist for the UK's Guardian, writes beautifully from Little Bee's perspective as she experiences Western culture in light of all that's been stripped from her.

Concerning Western culture, Little Bee constantly asks herself, "but how will I explain this to the girls back home?" for customs as plain (or as strange) as wood flooring. Little Bee's life becomes heartbreakingly tied to Sarah Summers, a British magazine editor, and together the two navigate through the labyrinth of grief and survival, both emotional and physical.

Cleave's social commentary is expertly woven into the narrative without entering the discrediting territory of hyperbole, or nagging. He found a way to reveal the ugliness of humanity in a way that is maddeningly relatable: everyone possesses a streak of selfishness that makes itself plain at some point the world's only linear path, aging. Even Little Bee isn't innocent of selfishness, and the only character fighting human ugliness throughout the entire novel is Batman, Sarah's 4-year-old son, who has taken the name (and cape and mask) to fight the world's "baddies." Charlie, his birth name, contrasts Little Bee's similarly fluid identity and again, Cleave gives the reader a meal of self-perception and ideology to chew on.

As is usual for me for when I like a book, the binding has now been perversely stretched and folded, and not many pages have been dog-earred. To my friends who find dog-earring defacement: congratulations on your ability to keep track of bookmarks. Now leave me to my reading.
 


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