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 wherever I could..."
The second incident was a news story that came to his attention. "In 2001 an Angolan man named Manuel Bravo fled to England and claimed asylum on the grounds that he and his family would be persecuted and killed if they were returned to Angola. He lived in a state of uncertainty for four years pending a decision on his application. Then, without warning, in September 2005 Manuel Bravo and his 13-year-old son were seized in a dawn raid and interned at an Immigration Removal Centre in southern England. They were told that they would be forcibly deported to Angola the next morning. That night, Manuel Bravo took his own life by hanging himself in a stairwell. His son was awoken in his cell and told the news. What had happened was that Manuel Bravo, aware of a rule under which unaccompanied minors cannot be deported from the UK, had taken his own life in order to save the life of his son. Among his last words to his child were: 'Be brave. Work hard. Do well at school.'"
Read more from this interview.
Read more about Chris Cleave and Little Bee
Note: this website contains plot-spoilers.
Little Bee was originally published in the UK, Australia and India as The Other Hand. It was one of only four books shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel award in 2008.
This article was originally published in March 2009, and has been updated for the
February 2010 paperback release.
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