Hi Meltingpot Readers,
I hesitated before adding Chris Cleave to my White People Who Tell Black Stories list for Black History Month. After all, his critically acclaimed novel, Little Bee, isn't only about the Nigerian orphan who calls herself Little Bee. It's also about a White British couple who 'meet up' with Little Bee. But then I figured, since my book Substitute Me features two White main characters and only one main Black character and it was routinely classified and categorized as an "African-American title," then Little Bee can join the Black book bandwagon.
About the Book: Little Bee debuted in 2009. It was one of those quiet sleeper hits. Without giving away too much of the kind of 'twist at the end' plot, Little Bee is about the ravages of war and immigration. It's also about Africa and post-colonial, White British guilt. It's about reparations in a way, and it's about doing the right thing, even if the right thing comes at a great personal sacrifice. And even though all of those issues sound dark and heavy and probably the last thing anyone would want to read outside of a college classroom, Cleave did an amazing job creating a immensely readable, touching, tender and yes, sometimes horrifying story that gives readers something to really think about.
About the Author: Let's just get it out there. Chris Cleave is White. He is not affiliated or connected to Black Nigerians in any way. He did however spend the early years of his childhood, living in Cameroon. When asked why he wrote this story about an African assylum seeker he said he was inspired by his brief stint working in a detention center in England. He called it a "prison ...full of people who haven't committed a crime." He said the conditions were "distressing," and he just knew he had to write about this "dirty little secret."
The Success: First released in the UK under the title, The Other Hand, the novel was snapped up by Nicole Kidman for film adaption. In the United States the book was New York Times Bestseller and made several Best Of lists.
I enjoyed Little Bee but only discovered it by accident. I thought it was very interesting that the book was marketed in the United States with very little mention of its African protagonist. I wonder why? Thoughts?