The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
There is a noble premise to this book, to raise awareness about refugees to Britain, and to combat the sentiment of apathy that most people feel towards their plight. The character of the Little Bee is sweet and fascinating. The way she superimposes her experience in Britain on remembrances of her Nigerian home is quite endearing.
However, and I cannot quite put my finger on it, the book left me unsatisfied. Like many stories that are written by white people about Africa or about African people there is a certain flatness to them. The Africans are always the helpless people who surrender to their fate, no matter how many radical plans they make to escape it. Africans are either brutes or victims. Either sub-human monsters or near-saints, but perhaps this is just me. Little Bee comes quite close to a real-life humane and wise African girl, but the others in this book are not quite so engaging. Of course you will have to read the novel to judge by yourself, it is quite short and easy to finish in one or two sittings.
The book is about Little Bee the Nigerian girl who finds herself a central character in the life of Sarah, a British editor of a funky women magazine, and mother to 4-year-old Charlie. The events of the novel takes place over a few weeks but move backwards to the memory of both women’s lives and the fateful events that brought them together. It is narrated in the alternating voices of Sara and Little Bee.
One thing that bothered me as a mother of a small child is the portrayal of the little boy, Charlie, a.k.a Batman. His speech manner is quite irritating and I think it is quite exaggerated because 4-year-olds in my experience are quite capable of uttering grammatical sentences. Sarah has her heart in the right place, but she is also neurotic to say the least, this is perhaps done on purpose to illustrate that sometimes the immigrant is far wiser than the full-blooded British citizen with his or her “values” whatever they are.
Perhaps I would have given the book one extra half star but since the option is not available I am erring on the minus side, simply because the book did not deliver on it hyped up promise.