It's unfortunate that Little Bee
's publishers chose to market the book with such a gimmicky plot summary, as it may turn away as many readers as it attracts. It is accurate to say, though, that the manner in which the story unfolds is a major part of its appeal. Many authors engage readers by sparking their desire to know what comes next
. Chris Cleave, however, creates suspense around what happened before
The title character in Little Bee
is a teenager from Nigeria attempting to find refuge in England. She appeals for help to the only people she knows outside her homeland: Sarah, the publisher of a trendy London magazine, and her journalist husband, Andrew. As Little Bee
progresses, questions continually arise in the reader's mind. (Why did Little Bee need to flee Nigeria? How did she and Sarah meet? Why is Andrew so...
Beyond the Book
Chris Cleave's Inspiration for Little Bee
In interviews and on his web site, Cleave cites two events that inspired him to write a novel about refugees in the UK. Cleave worked in the canteen of a refugee detention center while on summer break from university, and was amazed to find that he'd been living within ten miles of the place for years without knowing of its existence. "The conditions in there were very distressing," he writes. "I got talking with asylum seekers who'd been through hell and were likely to be sent back to hell. Some of them were beautiful characters and it was deeply upsetting to see how we were treating them... I knew I had to write about it, because it's such a dirty secret. And I knew I had to show the unexpected humour of these refugees...