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  New York Times Review

SOME 50 years ago, the region near Nigeria's Atlantic coast provided the setting for Chinua Achebe's haunting novel of a world torn asunder by the vicissitudes of Anglo-imperial expansion. To capture the tragedy of colonialism in that account, "Things Fall Apart," Achebe looked to Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" for inspiration: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." The drowning of innocence and the anarchic consequences of the global reach are hardly confined to Achebe's Nigeria of yesteryear or to the colonial underbelly of Britain's "civilizing" mission. The story of globalization is a centuries-old account of historical interconnections shaped by exploitation, despair and, at times, moral conscience and optimism. Chris Cleave, a columnist for The Guardian, puts a modern-day spin on Achebe's concerns with his immensely readable and moving second novel. While the pretext of "Little Bee" initially seems contrived - two strangers, a Brit: ish woman and a Nigerian girl, meet on a lonely African beach and become inextricably bound through the horror imprinted on their encounter - its impact is hardly shallow. Rather than focusing on postcolonial guilt or African angst, Cleave uses his emotionally charged narrative to challenge his readers' conceptions of civility, of ethical choice. Sarah O'Rourke might appear to be an insipid character, with her career at a British magazine, her Batman-costumed young son, her uninspiring lover and her gentrified Surrey lifestyle. When juxtaposed with the Nigerian refugee called Little Bee - whom we first meet behind the razor wire of a British immigration center - Sarah is unsympathetic, even tiresome. But that impression changes partway through the novel when a flashback to Africa reveals her fortitude. There, it is Sarah, rather than her husband, Andrew, who gallantly comes to Little Bee's rescue. Sarah must also pick up the pieces after Andrew's descent from third-world cowardice into first-world madness. YET the character and voice of Little Bee reveal Cleave at his finest. As she navigates the dehumanizing indifference of immigration detention with her self-taught Queen's English, this young refugee tugs at the reader's conscience. For two years, she has avoided the "ravenous eyes" of the camp's men with her purposefully mismatched charity-box clothes, unwashed skin and bound breasts. Eventually, she turns up, illegally, at the O'Rourkes' home in Kingston-upon-Thames. In the weeks that follow, the lives of Little Bee and Sarah will be woven into a web in which disparate worlds can be connected in the unlikeliest fashion - through the music of U2 and the spontaneity of reality television. London, with its dizzying abundance and multiculturalism, looks like a parallel universe when compared with the impoverished Nigerian village where Little Bee grew up. Surely the locals would chide, "Little miss been-to is making up her tales again," were she ever to return to what remains of her birthplace. Yet it's this same village that instilled in her the skills and values needed to help her navigate toward her own scarred survival. Like Little Bee, Sarah is a survivor. But the lessons of the past are not enough to steer either woman to safety. Instead, in a world full of turpitude and injustice, it is their bold, impulsive choices that challenge the inevitability of despair, transforming a political novel into an affecting story of human triumph. Caroline Elkins, an associate professor of history at Harvard, is the author of "Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya."

  Library Journal Review

An LJ Best Audio of 2009; the S. & S. hc also received a starred review, LJ 1/09; Anne Flosnik reads. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Little Bee, smart and stoic, knows two people in England, Andrew and Sarah, journalists she chanced upon on a Nigerian beach after fleeing a massacre in her village, one grisly outbreak in an off-the-radar oil war. After sneaking into England and escaping a rural immigration removal center, she arrives at Andrew and Sarah's London suburb home only to find that the violence that haunts her has also poisoned them. In an unnerving blend of dread, wit, and beauty, Cleave slowly and arrestingly excavates the full extent of the horror that binds Little Bee and Sarah together. A columnist for the Guardian, Cleave earned fame and notoriety when his first book, Incendiary, a tale about a terrorist attack on London, was published on the very day London was bombed in July 2005. His second ensnaring, eviscerating novel charms the reader with ravishing descriptions, sly humor, and the poignant improvisations of Sarah's Batman-costumed young son, then launches devastating attacks in the form of Little Bee's elegantly phrased insights into the massive failure of compassion in the world of refugees. Cleave is a nerves-of-steel storyteller of stealthy power, and this is a novel as resplendent and menacing as life itself.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2008 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Cleave follows up his outstanding debut (Incendiary, 2005) with a psychologically charged story of grief, globalization and an unlikely friendship. The story opens in a refugee detention center outside of London. As the Nigerian narratorwho got her nickname "Little Bee" as a childprepares to leave the center, she thinks of her homeland and recalls a horrific memory. "In the immigration detention center, they told us we must be disciplined," she says. "This is the discipline I learned: whenever I go into a new place, I work out how I would kill myself there. In case the men come suddenly, I make sure I am ready." After Little Bee's release, the first-person narration switches to Sarah, a magazine editor in London struggling to come to terms with her husband Andrew's recent suicide, as well as the stubborn behavior of her four-year-old son, Charlie, who refuses to take off his Batman costume. While negotiating her family troubles, Sarah reflects on "the long summer when Little Bee came to live with us." Cleave alternates the viewpoints of the two women, patiently revealing the connection between them. A few years prior, Sarah and Andrew took a vacation to the Nigerian coast, not realizing the full extent to which the oil craze had torn the country apart. One night they stumble upon Little Bee and her sister, who are fleeing a group of rapacious soldiers prowling the beach. The frightening confrontation proves life-changing for everyone involved, though in ways they couldn't have imagined. A few years later Sarah and Little Bee come together again in the suburbs of London, and their friendshipin addition to that between Little Bee and Charlieprovides some salvation for each woman. Though less piercing and urgent than his debut, Cleave's narrative pulses with portentous, nearly spectral energy, and the author maintains a well-modulated balance between the two narrators. A solid sophomore effort, and hopefully a sign of even better things to come. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller, book club favorite, and " affecting story of human triumph" ( The New York Times Book Review ) from Chris Cleave, author of Gold and Everyone Brave Is Forgiven .<br> <br> We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.
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