LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave
Also published as THE OTHER HAND.
Imagine if you will, the tranquility of a luxury beach side resort. Now think about it in Nigeria. Now think about it with an unlikely and violent clash between two young Nigerian sisters, a 30-something white professional couple from London, and the local police. You already know this will not be a pretty picture.
From the very first sentence - 'Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl.' - we are drawn into the life of Little Bee, one of the two Nigerian sisters on the beach that fateful day. The story begins two years after the beach encounter, with Little Bee being released from an immigration detention center in England. She has been detained there since her arrival in the UK as an illegal refugee. She sets out to find the only people she knows in England, being the husband and wife she met on the beach that day. From this most curious beginning, the lives of both Little Bee, and the couple,Sarah and Andrew, gradually unfold, with Little Bee eventually finding them. The two sets of lives, of course, could not be more different. Little Bee has grown up in a village in the forests of Nigeria, amidst the encroachment of Western corporate interests and the destruction that results. Sarah and Andrew live and work very comfortably in London, and really have no idea at all as to what goes on inside countries like Nigeria or what happens to the people there.
The story is told, in alternating chapters, by Little Bee, and Sarah. Little Bee is determined that she will be granted residency in the UK while she is in the detention center and studies the English language - the Queen's English that is - with a fierce passion. Being the only English she knows, this is the language she uses to tell her story. It is very measured and deliberate, as is the English of those for whom it is not a first language. It is also very visual, which makes for compelling reading. I imagine if the story were to be narrated by a native Nigerian, it would be like listening to music. Sarah's story is narrated in a pretty standard sort of fashion, but with the added delight of the language and awesome imagination of her four year old son, Charlie. This child is an absolute treasure; apparently the author modelled him based on observations of his own four year old son. Very cleverly, a lot of the story is viewed through his eyes.
Little Bee finds delight and happiness and positivity in vitually everything in England, she is convinced everything will work out ok for her. Sarah, on the other hand, is struggling with her marriage, motherhood, her work as a journalist/editor and life in general. The contrast could not be more great. But we get to see the beauty of Little Bee's new world, and the gradual changes that take place in Sarah as she comes to terms with Little Bee being part of her life.
This is a harrowing story, and has haunted me since finishing it two weeks ago. The West, and the huge multinationals who want to control the natural resources of our world, have a lot to answer for in their decimation of the Third World, its traditional societies and peoples. We don't have a lot of refugees here in New Zealand, being a low population country, but I will look at the plight and lives of refugees who have the good fortune to make it here with quite different eyes now.
REBEL WITH A CAUSE by Ray Avery
Every now and again amazing people of unbelievable vision, talent and self-belief come along and change things about the world we live in. Or other people's worlds. Ray Avery is one such person. Currently the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, and the recent recipient of this year's Peter Blake Award for Leadership, Ray Avery is essentially a humanitarian. He has harnessed his scientific skills, his business experience, his inventor's brain, and his brilliant entrepreneurship together to change the lives of the people in Third World countries, initially Eritrea and Nepal, and then to other countries as well. His mantra is that 'one man can change the world', and he has certainly done that with his determination, his vision and sheer power of personality.
What perhaps makes his story even more fascinating and inspiring is that he had a most wretched childhood. Born just after the war in England, abandoned and abused by his parents, his early years were spent either with his mother, in foster homes, or running away and living on the streets. Consequently he developed excellent survival and can-do skills, which he put to such good use in his adult life. Against all the odds, and through sheer good luck he found himself under the tutelage of the school gardener who opened him up to the world of science. And from that point on there was no stopping Ray Avery.
Perhaps the most fortuitous thing to happen to him was meeting Fred Hollows, and this put him on the path to the incredible work he has done in Eritrea and Nepal bringing cheap and safe cataract surgery to millions of people. Based on his observations working and living in these countries he has gone onto to invent a number of other low cost, effective and innovative products to benefit the populations of these poverty-stricken countries.
Ray Avery is a fascinating and very humbling man, who has a fascinating story to tell. Reading his story may well make you think just a little bit differently about the footprint we leave on the world, and how little effort it takes to do a lot of good things, not necessarily in the third world, which is probably just a bit inaccessible for the majority of us, but in our own communities. If that happens, then we too have taken on some of Ray's spirit.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling
The final instalment, the seventh book in the wonderful saga of magic, wizardry and witchcraft, where we have watched young Harry and his friends grow from youngsters to young adults, all the while dealing with the Dark Side, and despite all the odds overcoming. What child, or adult for that matter, has not dreamed at some stage of being able to cast a wand, say a magic word and it happens. We all knew it had to come to an end one day, and that it would have to be an epic ending, where dozens of loose ends get tied up and one or the other of Harry or He Who Cannot Be Named would have to be dispatched, and it couldn’t possibly be a clean and tidy despatch!
So on a family holiday trip to the US, to the land of magic and theme parks and surreal moments – Disneyland, Hollywood and the rest, it seemed the perfect place to start reading this last book. After all what is one more bit of escapism.
And I loved it. Action packed, full of twists and turns, surprises aplenty, Rowling has weaved virtually every single character from the previous six novels into this rich, multi layered story. Not only is the 18 year old Harry having to deal with growing from a boy into a man, falling in love, his internal demons, changing relationships with his friends but he has the added burden, complication, bonus of having to save the world as we know it single handed and staying more than one step ahead of you-know-who. Not what the average 18 year old has to deal with. We all know that it is complete fantasy, but it is just all so riveting, and imaginative, and fabulous that you just have to wonder in awe at the amazing brain of JK Rowling in holding it all together and making it work. And maybe that is part of the magic!
Despite the fantasy and the magic and the characters we have loved since they were children, this is actually more an adult novel than a children’s novel. There is a lot of violence, death, dark magic, and it is not a pretty read. It is almost as if Rowling has been making each novel darker and more evil to prepare us for the dramas of this one. The relationships between Harry, Hermione and Ron are also far more developed and complicated than previously. Magic cannot make for a perfectly, happy, contented personality where problems can be whisked away with a wand. I think Rowling captures very well the internal conflicts we all have and how they do take a bit of work and effort to resolve, not just something that can be fixed by a pill or a magic wand.
This book is a great finale to a wonderful story. Some of the books I have enjoyed more than others; some have been better written than others, but this book is right up there with the best. And I cried!