A quotation from Little Bee--
"Sarah lifted her eyes up from the street.
"'Our problem is that you only have your own story. One story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one hundred stories, you will be strong. If we can show that what happened to your village happened to hundreds of villages, then the power is on our side. We need to collect the stories of people who've been through the same things as you. We need to make it undeniable.'"
Can one person's story make a difference? When I finished Chris Cleave's Little Bee, that question loomed.
Little Bee tells more than one person's story. Chris Cleave fills the book with stories. Most of them are tragic. Several involve great courage. But finally, at the heart of it all, is the story of the Nigerian refugee Little Bee.
Little Bee has just spent two years in a British refugee impoundment. She and three other women have escaped. All Little Bee knows to do is to find the couple who saved her during a brutally violent incident on a beautiful Nigerian Beach.
Blurbs for the book beg the readers not to reveal the encounter to others. It is enough to say that the encounter is something unlike anything I've read before. And it reflects the nature of the book itself.
I don't know if the author wants me to keep mum to hide the direction of the story, to make the tragic, yet often loving events a surprise. Maybe he is afraid that if you know where the book is going, you will stop reading.
Little Bee is that kind of book. It is not easy reading. It deals with the most current of issues, immigration and the plight of endangered refugees from war-torn countries.
We caused the war. Men seeking oil killed the natives to get the wealth that lay below the ground. And now, as Little Bee watches what is left of her British family fill up their fancy car with gasoline, she does so knowing where the gasoline came from. Little Bee knows that it cost her family's lives and the lives of many in her village.
In a time when our world is filled with nations and leaders wanting to leave people out, to make harsh immigration policies, does anyone understand how the wealthy nations have created the refugees? Our desire to have so much has left others without even the hope a simple life can bring.
Will a single story matter? That's my question.
To use a phrase that doesn't fully apply, Little Bee is wise beyond its years. Cleave fills it with brilliant quotes and readable writing. Here are a few--
Little Bee says, "Learning the Queen's English is like scrubbing off the bright red varnish from your toenails the morning after a dance. It takes a long time and there is always a little bit left at the end, a stain of red along the growing edges to remind you of the good time you had."
"Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl. There was plenty of time for it. We did not have hurry. We did not have electricity or fresh water or sadness either, because none of these had been connected to our village yet."
"This is the trouble with happiness--all of it is built on top of something that men want."
A story is a powerful thing in my country, and God help the girl who takes one that is not her own."
"Our stories are the tellers of us."
"Peace is a time when people can tell each other their real names."
These quotes are a small sampling of the most powerful book I've read so far this year--Little Bee.