Title: Little Bee
Author: Chris Cleave
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Page Count: 275
Publication Date: 2010
Category/Genre: Fiction, Cultural, Africa, Historical Fiction
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.71)
From the author of the international bestseller Incendiary comes a haunting novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers—one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.
*Questions are a mix from Rabbit Hole Blogger, publisher and 2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission. Questions may contain spoilers.
1. Little Bee credits a small bottle of nail polish for “saving her life” while she was in the detention center. Is there any object or act that helps you feel alive and beautiful, even when everything else seems to be falling apart?
2. “Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive” For Little Bee and other asylum seekers, the story of their life thus far is often all they have. What happens to the characters that carry their stories with them, both physically and mentally? What happens when we try to forget our past? How much control over their own stories do the characters in the book seem to have?
3. Little Bee tells the reader, “We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived” Do you have any scars you’ve come to embrace? Did you feel more connected to Little Bee as a narrator after this pact?
4. In an interview, Cleave explains that Charlie is in the book for two reasons:
First, because he is funny and lovable – he gives the novel an emotional center; a reason for the adult protagonists to not simply walk away from the situation and disperse. Second, Charlie is a study in the early formation of identity. Little Bee is a novel about where our individuality lies – which layers of identity are us, and which are mere camouflage. So it’s a deliberate choice to use the metaphor of a child who is engaging in his first experiments with identity – in Charlie’s case by taking on the persona of a superhero.
What did Charlie’s presence mean to you?
5. Little Bee strives to learn the Queen’s English in order to survive in the detention center. How does her grasp of the language compare with Charlie’s? How does the way each of these two characters handle the English language help to characterize them?
6. Of the English language, Little Bee says, “Every word can defend itself. Just when you go to grab it, it can split into two separate meanings so the understanding closes on empty air” What do you think she means by this? Can you think of any examples of English words that defend themselves? Why is language so important to Little Bee?
7. Cleave has said that the four questions he asks of his characters are: What was the best day of your life? What was the worst day of your life? What do you hope for? And what are you afraid of? – he believes if you think about these, the author can understand the character as an individual and not just as an exemplar of a category of people. Do you see evidence of this in Bee? Sarah? Others?
8. How did it affect your reading experience to have two narrators? Did you trust one woman more than the other? Did you prefer the voice of one above the other?
9. Little Bee says of horror films, “Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it” Do you agree? Was reading this novel in any way a dose of horror for you? How did it help you reflect on the presence or lack of horror in your own life?
10. Little Bee figures out the best way to kill herself in any given situation, just in case “the men come suddenly.” How do these plans help Little Bee reclaim some power? Were you disturbed by this, or were you able to find the humor in some of the scenarios she imagines?
11. What does Udo changing her name to Little Bee symbolize for you? How does her new name offer her protection? Do you think the name suits her?
12. “To have an affair, I began to realize, was a relatively minor transgression. But to really escape from Andrew, to really become myself, I had to go the whole way and fall in love”. How did falling in love with someone else help Sarah become herself? What role did Andrew play in perpetuating Sarah’s extramarital affair?
13. When Little Bee finds that Andrew has hanged himself she thinks, “Of course I must save him, whatever it costs me because he is a human being.” And then she thinks, “Of course I must save myself because I am a human being too”. How do the characters in the story decide when to put themselves first and when to offer charity? Is one human life ever more valuable than another? What if one of the lives in question is your own?
14. Why do you think Little Bee feels hope at the end of the novel despite her dire circumstances? Is the ending meant to be tragic or hopeful?
15. In Britain, Little Bee was published under the title The Other Hand. Which do you think is a better title for the book? What aspects of the novel does each title highlight?