Here is a full author Q&A about LITTLE BEE / THE OTHER HAND – everything from the true stories surrounding the novel right through to discussion of its characters and themes. These are the questions that readers and interviewers have been asking me, and I’ve tried to answer them as best as I can. I hope you’ll find this helpful.
Thanks to all the readers who’ve sent me questions. Thanks to Bond Street Books and Simon & Schuster for their input too. Special thanks to Daniel Goldin at Boswell Books – some of the best questions are from an interview I did with him. If you have any suggestions for how I can make this page more useful, please let me know via email or via the comments box. If you or your book club have a question, I’ll do my best to answer it. If you’ve arrived at this page you’ve come quite far, so thank you for being interested.
Is the novel based on a true story?
No, but there’s one true story in particular that made me determined to write the novel. 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.”
Why is the novel called “The Other Hand” in the UK, Ireland, Australia and India and “Little Bee” in the US and Canada?
It’s quite common for novels to change titles when they cross the Atlantic. I like both the titles the novel is published under. “The Other Hand” is a good title because it speaks to the dichotomous nature of the novel, with its two narrators and two worlds, while it also references Sarah’s injury. “Little Bee” is a good title too, because the novel is really Little Bee’s story, so it’s a straightforward and an honest title. Also I like it because it sounds bright and approachable – and my aim with this novel was to write an accessible story about a serious subject. I like the fact that the novel has two titles. I like it when divergent choices are simultaneously right. While we’re on the subject, I like my name. I think “cleave” might be unique in having two synonyms that are antonyms of each other. You see? I’m doomed…
Did you have a personal reason to write the novel?
Yes, there was a chance encounter that really shook me up. Around fifteen years ago I was working as a casual labourer over the university summer vacation, and for three days I worked in the canteen of Campsfield House in Oxfordshire. It’s a detention centre for asylum seekers – a prison, if you like, full of people who haven’t committed a crime. I’d been living within ten miles of the place for three years and didn’t even know it existed. The conditions in there were very distressing. 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. When we imprison the innocent we make them ill, and when we deport them it’s often a death sentence. 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, and to make the book an enjoyable and compelling read – because otherwise people’s eyes would glaze over.
Was it your intention to change people’s minds about asylum seekers?
Readers are smart and I’m not in the business of lecturing them. I see my job as providing new information in an entertaining way. Readers will then use that information as the spirit moves them. I think the job is important because there’s something you can do in fiction that you don’t have the space to do in news media, which is to give back a measure of humanity to the subjects of an ongoing story. When I started to imagine the life of one asylum seeker in particular, rather than asylum seekers in general, the scales fell from my eyes in regard to any ideological position I might have held on the issue. It’s all about exploring the mystery and the wonder of an individual human life. Life is precious, whatever its country of origin.
What could Little Bee do if she was allowed to stay as a permanent citizen?
I think Little Bee could do anything she set her mind to, because by definition she is a survivor. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, we thought of asylum seekers as heroes. The hundreds who died while trying to cross the Berlin Wall, for example. Or the pilots, performers and scientists who defected from the Soviet Union. Or the heroes of previous generations – Sigmund Freud, who fled to London to escape the Nazis, or Anne Frank, who could not flee far enough. Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Joseph Conrad – all of them refugees – I could go on and on. When horror and darkness descend, asylum seekers are the ones who get away. They are typically above average in terms of intellectual gifts, far-sightedness, motivation and resilience. These are the people you want to have on your side. It will be a monument to our hubris if we allow ourselves to start thinking of them as a burden.
Why did you choose to open the novel with the quote from Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship? What does the typo in this quote mean for you?
The quote is “Britain is proud of its tradition of providing a safe haven for people fleeting [sic] persecution and conflict.” I took it from Life in the United Kingdom, which is the text book given to immigrants preparing for their citizenship test in the UK. It covers British history, government and etiquette. It offers the excellent advice “If you spill a stranger’s drink by accident, it is good manners (and prudent) to offer to buy another.” Less gloriously, though, its summary of British history is rather selective, and the work as a whole is riddled with inaccuracies and typographical errors. My belief is that if a refugee is prepared to walk away from a regime that has imprisoned and tortured her, flee to the UK, apply for asylum, and commit to memory the contents of the text book we make compulsory for her, then for our part we should at least be prepared to have that text book professionally copy-edited. The typo in that opening quotation is a nice example of a bureaucracy that is pretending to care, but not pretending very hard.
Are refugee detention centres a necessary evil? Given the chance, what would you change about them?
I hope all evil is unnecessary. Most of the UK immigration detention centres are run for private profit by secretive companies. So, firstly, I’d take the profit motive out of detaining asylum seekers – because they are human beings, not a cash crop for investors. Second, I’d limit the time for which asylum seekers can be detained. As it stands they can be held in the detention system for a long time – sometimes for years – while the Home Office shuffles their paperwork. This destroys their mental health. Thirdly I’d stop the detention of refugee children. The UK Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote in a 2008 report: “The plight of detained children remained of great concern. While child welfare services had improved, an immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for children and we were dismayed to find cases of disabled children being detained and some children spending large amounts of time incarcerated.” That same report also stated: “Escort vehicles with caged compartments were inappropriately used to transport children.” Surely I’m not the only one who wants to cry when they read that.
Has your depiction of the immigration detention centre got you into any hot water in the UK?
No, not at all. First, because the UK is still one of the best places in the world to practice the art of free speech. That’s something truly great about Great Britain, and it’s a civil right we defend through regular exercise. We don’t have a constitution or a bill of rights to enshrine it, so we must practice it in our lives until it becomes an inbred instinct of a free people. Second, I think my depiction of a British immigration detention centre is accurate in the salient respects. It’s based on research and it would be hard to take issue with it on factual grounds, so people haven’t. That’s not to say that everyone likes me for doing it, but frankly that’s their problem and not mine. The British treatment of asylum seekers brings shame and ignominy on the nation. I didn’t invent that treatment. I’m trying to focus attention on it.
How did writing Little Bee differ from your experience with your previous works?
I’ve only published one previous novel, which is called Incendiary (2005). Incendiary is about the emotional climate that brought us the “War on Terror”. As a writer one is easily frightened when the West declares war on a noun, but at the time I felt it acutely because our first child had just been born and I hated the way our elected leaders were so clearly making his world a more dangerous place. When I get scared it tends to come out as dark comedy, or layered irony – anyway, Incendiary was how it came out. I wrote the draft in six weeks in early 2004, after the Madrid bombings and while the Abu Ghraib torture story was breaking. I went into a room in Paris with a coffee maker and a radio and I came out six weeks later with a beard and a manuscript, not really knowing how I’d done it.
The new novel [Little Bee / The Other Hand] came out of a sense of my own complicity in some of the evils of the world. I’d moved on from considering myself as an outraged – and blameless – observer, which I guess is where I was at with Incendiary. A year on, I realised that people like me are often part of the problem. I began to think about my life, and how it is relatively easy, and how it is therefore relatively easy to ignore the suffering of others. And since suffering is the rule rather than the exception in the world, it’s not an easy moral question to duck as a writer. So I decided to address it directly, by imagining the most striking example of someone who is dispossessed – Little Bee – coming to ask for a help from someone – Sarah – who is a little bit more like me. I never plot my work in advance, so I was very interested to discover how the moral ambiguities would play out.
As a writing task, this novel was harder than Incendiary. I did a year of research. I interviewed asylum seekers and people involved in their cases, I researched the oil conflict in Nigeria, and I familiarised myself with Nigerian English and Jamaican English. It was a lot of work before I even started writing. Then the book took nearly two years to write.
The novel is at times funny, yet it deals with serious and tragic events. How do you arrive at the bittersweet tone?
I’m able to do it because I have good readers. I can have my characters explore some fairly dark humour – for example, listing methods for a young Nigerian girl to kill herself at a garden party hosted by the Queen of England – while trusting my readers to understand that I am not making light of a serious theme. Rather, I am offering up a dark theme to the light, so that it may be examined. This is the only way I know to tell a serious story about current events without it becoming a lecture. And when I interviewed refugees and asylum seekers while researching this novel, I found that some of them use humour in this way too. These are people with very painful stories to tell. They have learned that in order to survive, they must get people in positions of power to listen to – and believe – their stories. And they have further learned that such people are more likely to listen if they make their stories entertaining, by showing the joy of their lives as well as the tragedy. They are the masters at telling their stories – because if they don’t get that balance right, they die. That’s motivation, right there. As far as storytelling goes, they’re playing in the major leagues. Novelists are amateurs by comparison.
Why does Little Bee talk about how she would have to explain things to “the girls back home”?
The “girls back home” are the novel’s Greek chorus – they are a foil in whose imagined reaction the cultural dissonance experienced by Little Bee can be made explicit. It’s a good device because it feels more natural than having Little Bee go around talking straight to camera and saying “Wow, I’m freaked out by this. And this. And this.” Much better for us to have Little Bee’s thoughts after she has understood the situation and can explain it to the “girls back home” from a position of superior knowledge. This allows us to appreciate the cultural gulf, whilst allowing the narrator to be knowing rather than tragic.
I look at human culture the same way science fiction does, but I look at it through the wrong end of the telescope. In sci-fi an ordinary protagonist discovers an extraordinary world, and the genre is exciting because of the emotional dissonance. But my thing is contemporary realism, so I’m always showing the ordinary world to what is effectively an extraterrestrial protagonist. It’s fun to do. Through this lens the most mundane events – Little Bee drinking a cup of tea in Sarah’s kitchen – acquire an immense significance and a certain beauty. Also, the things in our culture that are sad and ignoble – the fact, for example, that we can enjoy our freedom while imprisoning and deporting those who ask to share in it – appear in sharp focus through the eyes of an alien narrator. We have become accustomed to viewing our own actions in soft focus, but the alien narrator has not yet acquired this cultural immunity. She sees us as we can no longer see ourselves.
How do you expect readers to react to Andrew’s actions on the Nigerian beach?
I don’t have a preconception of how readers will react to that scene. My aim was to create a scene that was perfectly morally ambiguous, and in which the reader might quite justifiably side with either Andrew or Sarah. Andrew isn’t such a bad guy. What he fails to do on the beach is what most people would probably fail to do, myself included. Once Andrew realizes he’s made the wrong choice, it’s too late for him because the moment has passed and he is condemned to spend the rest of his days regretting that he failed life’s test. Sarah is lucky, really. She’s not inherently more moral than her husband, but just at that one critical moment she happened to do the right thing. This means that she can look back on her actions on the beach without too much guilt or shame. She can move on with the rest of her life while Andrew must enter a terminal decline. It’s ironic because Sarah’s infidelity is the reason the couple find themselves on the beach in the first place. And yet her premeditated affair goes unpunished by life, while Andrew’s momentary failure of courage dooms him forever. Life is savagely unfair. It ignores our deep-seated convictions and places a disproportionate emphasis on the decisions we make in split seconds.
Is Charlie/Batman based on your own children?
Charlie is based on our oldest boy, who was four years old when I started the book. For six months he would only answer to “Batman”. For a whole week I just listened to him and took dictation, which certainly beat going out to work for a living. Charlie’s “goodies / baddies” worldview is endearing but of course it’s naive and he’s not in the book as an example of an ideal morality. Charlie is in the novel for two reasons. First because he’s funny and loveable – he gives the novel an emotional centre; 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.
How did using two voices allow you to tell the story more thoroughly? What were some difficulties you faced writing from a female perspective?
After nearly two years with this project I realised that the strongest perspective would be a dual one. This is a story of two worlds: the developed and the developing, and of the mutual incomprehension that sometimes dooms them to antagonism. So by taking one woman from each side of the divide, and investing each with a compulsion to understand the other, I was able to let the story unpack itself in the mind of the reader. This was a huge breakthrough for me. One shouldn’t underestimate the role of the reader in this novel. I wanted to write a story that was never made fully explicit; which relied on the reader’s interpretation of the characters’ dialogue. Once you trust the reader with the story, the writing is really fun to do.
It’s not without its technical challenges, of course. As a man it requires concentration to write from a female perspective, but I see that as an advantage. If I’m consciously writing someone so different from myself, then I’m protected from the trap of using my own voice to animate the character. It forces me to listen, to think, and to write more precisely. Using two narrators is difficult though. To differentiate their vocabulary, grammar and idioms is quite straightforward if you make an effort to understand and inhabit the characters, but the hard thing is how you handle the overlaps and the gaps in the characters’ knowledge. When both narrators have witnessed an event, which one will you choose to recount it? Or will you let both of them tell it, and play with their different perspectives on what they’ve seen? When you use your narrators in series, you need to work to make it not feel like a TV show with bad links between segments. But when you use them in parallel, you need to take pains to avoid the text feeling repetitive.
Add into the mix the fact that the story is not told in linear time – the first half of the book is working backwards into history, while the second half works forwards into the future – and it quickly gets complicated. The trick is to make it read smoothly. It’s scary how many drafts you go through till you achieve something that reads simply.
Why is Sarah so much harder to like than Little Bee?
I like Sarah, but I’m also glad when people don’t. I like them for not liking her, because it probably means they have a strong moral sense and don’t suffer fools gladly. But maybe they should give her a break. Sarah’s not perfect, that’s for sure. But actually when you look at what she does, it’s very noble. She sacrifices herself, both mentally and physically, in order to save the life of a stranger. To my mind that excuses a lot of her shitty behavior – the adultery, the cynical day job, the aloofness. By contrast her husband, Andrew, is a moral paragon in his world, and yet when real life suddenly arrives to test him, he is found wanting. I also think Sarah inevitably suffers by proximity to Little Bee, who is much easier to like. If Sarah is more twisted, I think it’s because her path through life has necessarily been more convoluted. Little Bee’s life is extremely harrowing but it is also very simple – she is swimming very hard against the current, struggling to survive and not to be swept away. Sarah doesn’t have the luxury of knowing in which direction she should swim. And so she takes some bad directions, makes some bad choices in her life, but ultimately her heart is good and she proves it.
Is the ending meant to be tragic or hopeful?
I trust the reader to have their own idea of the characters and of their destiny. The problem with novels is that they are like the real-life relationships they describe: they are readily begun, and they never reach a definitive end where the whole thing achieves completion. So, being quite committed to realism, I trust the reader to see that. I have unusually great readers, I think. I get lots of email that makes me realize the level they’re operating on, and that I can trust them more and more in my future work. I don’t need to lay everything out or make everything obvious. I like it when readers bring their own inner life to the party.
What other writers do you like?
I admire Cormac McCarthy most among the living writers. It’s hardly an original position to take, but what can I say? What can anyone say about a man who has given us such an incredible body of work over several decades and who can then, in his seventies, write “The Road”, a novel which would tip the scales when weighed against all of his previous work?
I also like writers who can make me laugh while telling a compelling story. For this reason I love the work of John Steinbeck. It’s his little novels I like more than the important ones. Whenever I’m feeling low I go back and read the scene from Cannery Row where Doc orders a beer milkshake.
There are also some writers whose work I like and who aren’t as widely read as I think they should be. I think Howard Jacobson is among the greatest British writers, and his novel “Kalooki Nights” is one of the best of the last ten years. Alex Wheatle writes superb stories steeped in the street life and the vernacular of South London, and his new novel “The Dirty South” is excellent. And Ross Raisin is definitely one to watch in Britain. He’s an excellent writer with strong principles, and his first book “God’s Own Country” is great.
Why do you write novels anyway?
I do it because I don’t know much about the world and I want to find out more. I enjoy the work of educating myself through research, and then I enjoy the process of writing. Novels are incredibly intricate engines, and if you change one little piece here, it can throw the whole thing out of equilibrium way over there. So you spend half your time with tweezers and a jeweler’s eyepiece, and the other half with safety goggles and a lump hammer. And eventually, usually around three in the morning, the thing just clicks into gear and runs. It’s the most uplifting feeling. I get it about once every three years.
325 thoughts on “LITTLE BEE author Q&A”
I first want to start off by saying thank you. Thank you for being aware of your flaws and being open about them to your readers. You write in a way which doesn’t force blame or guilt but instead helps others to realize their own selfish flaws and for that I thank you.
After reading Little Bee for my 12th grade AP English class and reading some of you Q and A’s I was left wondering on some things.
1. Did Sarah stay with Lawrence? Did he loose his job? Or are these more parts of the story you leave to the readers imagination?
2. Why is some of the dialogue in quotations but some of it in italics? Is this to add a form of irony or a certain tone to the events? Some believe the italicized quotes are Little Bee’s thoughts but I strongly disagree.
3. Is Lawrence a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’ to you or is he meant to be either? Why did you make him such a self-conscious character? I see him as another character there to bring out societies flaws but I find it incredibly intriguing that you give him such a self-actualizing, loser spin off.
And now as a very lost high school student in the United States Midwest I ask for any advice you may have. I am a big believer that whatever you do in life, you should be passionate about, whether that be a job, hobbies, or any other thing you do. However, I am not sure what I am passionate about. Do you have any tips on careers or finding your passion?
Just finished this novel and waited to look up anything about the movie until I was done. When I did I couldn’t find anything! This book was beautiful and I loved it! A film isn’t necessary but I would have loved to see it. What happened to the film adaptation?
Hi Drew, thanks very much – I’m delighted you enjoyed the book! I’m not sure where we are with a film adaptation – it’s still on the cards & I’m sure it will happen at some point. I’m looking forward to watching it – so hopefully it will be soon! Thanks again for your kind words.
Ware did little Bee get her name from?
Hi Celeste, thanks for your question. When researching, I learned that many refugees take new names either to protect themselves or to make a break with a traumatic past. I tried to think of an appropriate name for her: something that was benevolent, helpful, individually tiny but collectively vital, and not entirely defenceless.
I am an American, married to a Frenchman for 35 years, and living in France, where I belong to an American Women’s Group, and am active with its book group. A friend in the US gave me a copy of Little Bee, and told me I’d be making a big mistake if I didn’t read it. I read it, I loved it, and I recommended it to the book group. Members of the group ordered copies from the local English-language bookshop, but since we are in Europe, we received the UK version, The Other Hand. Our discussion was this afternoon, and was very lively, but we would like to know why there are some major differences between Little Bee and The Other Hand. Two that I noticed right away are the first page of chapter 7 (dialogue re running out of milk in LB but only text in TOH) and the first page of chapter 9 (the day LB’s “story changed”). Members discussing the book today were American, English, Canadian and French, but we ALL agreed that we preferred the Little Bee version of these two examples. I plan to read The Other Hand to see if there are other differences, but we would like to know if YOU made the changes before publication in the US, or if they were made by the US editor.
First of all, thank you very much indeed for reading the book, for engaging with it, and for your kind words. It’s true that Little Bee and The Other Hand do diverge in the last third before reconverging at the end. I made the changes to the US version after the UK text was locked. My brief was to Americanise some spellings and idioms, and to provide some additional exposition for North American readers who would have less familiarity with London history and socioeconomics. This I did, and I probably went beyond the brief too because I’m a compulsive worker & will always worry away at a text until someone physically wrenches it away from me and sends it to the printers. Looking at the two versions side-by-side after all this time I don’t think one or the other is better. (I wish I could have the chance to redraft the whole novel now – I would make a lot of changes.) Thank you again – to you and the whole book club – for reading the book and for noticing these differences. You must have been really concentrating! All my best – Chris
Dear Mr. Cleave,
I was just talking about foreign money with my colleagues and remembered I have a 5 Nigerian Nayra note in my wallet. I found this when I was on holiday in Cuba about 3 or 4 years ago. I wanted to get my book (The Other Hand) which I took from my suitcase and there were two notes of Nigerian money there in my suitcase. I still think it’s a weird story cause I have never been in Nigeria, but I was reading the book that does have a connection to the country and money.
Is it possible it came from the book?
Kind regards, Marylou – Netherlands
Dear Mr. Cleve,
I saw your book at the library in Heidelberg, the title rung a bell, and I put it in my basket of “to takes” (I am allowed to take more than the allotment and to keep for a longer period of time as I live quite far away)…I am so glad. I have been mesmerized by “Little Bee” and couldn’t put it down. You, as a man, found the right tone writing from the perspective of two women– as I’m sure I’ve known Sarah, and Little Bee for me was an Ethiopian woman I met on a bus in San Francisco. She asked me to help save her as she was about to be deported back to Ethiopia. She needed an American husband; I found her one. I am going to suggest your book for our book discussion group in the hope that everyone thinks more in depth of the problems of refugees which we see on a daily basis here in Europe. I had known about the Delta region oil companies problems for a long time, and the effect on the people in the region (poisoning of the water, the fish and the people).
“Little Bee” is so poignant, so real, so actuell. Thank you from my heart, keep writing. Jean Kroeber
Dear Mr. Cleave,
I am reading Little Bee for my English course, and I am truly enjoying it! We have discussed a lot of the possible themes from the book, but would you be able to tell me what the overall theme is for you? Thanks and keep up the great work!
Why did you choose to personify a pound coin? How does the personification of the pound coin force the reader to read more closely?
I just finished reading your fantastic novel! I must say that all the characters are quite believable & definitely thought provoking.
I was reading some reviews of what people “thought” the ending was supposed to be about. I think that the ending which many consider to be ambiguous actually depends upon your own personal point of view.
If a person were inclined to be a pessimist then they would probably infer that Little Bee dies, Sarah & even poor Charlie (Batman) were either arrested or even worse killed. It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibilities consider what happened on that same beach earlier in the novel.
A person who is more optimistic will probably determine that Sarah, Charlie & Little Bee all probably did survive the experience on the beach. It’s suggested that story is being told in the past tense so you can probably surmise that they are together again at some point.
What do I personally think? I think that Little Bee was actually free at the end of the novel. Oh not physically, having a police man put his hand on your shoulder with his armed men at your back does not paint the picture of liberation. It’s the spiritual & emotional freedom of Little Bee that I’m talking about. At the end as she sees Charlie playing with other Nigerian children & being free of his “Batman” persona she is literally given the gift of a lifetime. Her life (choices) matters and her heart is free from the cruel memories of the past.
As I just told my girlfriend, who recommended this novel to me, it depends on if you look at your glass as half empty or half full. Given the joys & pains of the main characters I think you’ve done a phenomenal job. I suppose I am a glass half full sort of guy after all. For that reason alone (and there are many more), I’m grateful you’ve written this fine piece of literature.
Hi Kenny, many thanks for reading the book and for taking the time to write such a thoughtful commentary. This is the kind of thing that makes me very glad to get up in the morning and write. In answer to your question, I am absolutely with you as regards your analysis. Life is about surrendering to accident, illness or tyranny – one of those three things will certainly get us – without surrendering one’s character. To be free is to live in such a way that at the point of surrender one has passed on all of one’s good energy to those whose time has not yet come. I also think you get bonus points for allowing children to live for as long as possible without knowing quite how difficult life becomes. Call it grace or freedom or happiness – I don’t know what the right word is – but I think that is what the novel’s protagonists are reaching for.
Having worked in Africa with teenage girls in a restoration home after suffering abuse, I understand how incredibly difficult it is to capture the relationship between a well off Westerner and a suffering girl in a third world country. In Little Bee, you do a marvelous job of highlighting the differences between the two while showing that underneath culture, age, and circumstances, there are incredible bonding similarities. Thank you for this book, it was not only enjoyable, but moving and beautiful.
Hi Geny-Kate, thank you for reading the book. I’m glad it meant something to you. Yes, I do hope that we all have a few things in common as human beings. Certainly if we don’t, then we are in a lot of trouble. Researching that novel was a wake-up call for me. It is hard, when one is enjoying a relatively simple life, to fully realise that one is simply very lucky rather than virtuous or entitled. The whole thing is such a crazy roll of the dice.
I like this book a lot. It was harrowing and I thank you for that, the everyday lives and hearts of the asylum seakers made the reality of our world so much clearer than reading about this in a newspaper article. Most of all I appreciate the way you have so well described our human foibles-Andrew’s lack of courage on the beach. Lawrence’s selfishness and indeed Sarah’s willingness to go off and do something, perhaps to avoid having to consider reality. We are all made up of ideals and a reluctance to alter our “normal” lives, a reluctance that can change the couse of life in a second. Your study of this grey area of humanity is very important. What are heros made of? What is everday madness. Parts of hour book remind me of similiar questions in Paul Bowles books, especially “sheltering sky”. To me this makes your fiction very real. We are each faced with “Life choice”- are we awake enough to recognise them?
Hi Anna – thank you for your thoughtful comments, and for reading the novel in the first place. I’m glad it meant something to you.
I recently read Little Bee and found it to be interesting on many levels. In describing how Andrew dies, you mention that he was on an anti-depressant drug called Ciprolax. I wonder why you mentioned any drug name at all? It wasn’t really relevant to the story. And why that drug in particular? Do you know someone who was on that drug and took his life? Have you witnessed that kind of death?
I look forward to reading Gold next.
I loved your novel and I value it as much as any I have read in quite a while. If the story had any fault it was only in its necessary poignancy. As an aspiring novelist myself, I encourage you to continue to write meaningful and significant stories of the same ilk, of which there is certainly no abundance in the world.
I listened to little bee on audiobook downloaded from my library. I feel it educated me about the plight of refugees. The humor and normal ness of Sarah made the violence real rather than sensational. Well done! I will recommend it to my friends as well as try to get your other books and the authors you recommend in your interview. I like the hard choices in the book.
I enjoyed reading most of your story but found it totally unrealistic that a mother would risk taking her child to the very country that nearly ended her life and was responsible for her husbands death. I also thought the lack of a detailed ending left the story incomplete. I loved Little Bee, Sarah and the humor. It also opened my eyes to the whole refugee debate happening in Australia at the moment so thank you for that. I look forward to discussing it at book club this week.
Mr. Cleave, I loved your writing style but the abysmal detailed violence in this book was off-putting. I shall now read “Gold” because of your writing talent and hope the story is not so sickening. I have a feeling that if you relaxed and wrote something light you would be as funny and exhilarating as Michael Frayn. Looking forward to some diversity.
I too read “Little Bee” in one sitting. The book was well written and hard to put down. Many parts of the story horrified me to the point of tears….so much pain and sadness. I have to admit that the ending was a big disappointment, but it was in fact realistic. I just wanted so badly for things to work out for Udo, Sarah and Charlie.
Thank you for writing this novel and opening my eyes to a world I have been blind to. I look forward to reading more of your works~
Have just completed reading the other hand and it was nothing like i expected, in a good way and i thouroughly enjoyed it 🙂
I have an english assesment approaching that entails us to write from one of the main characters perspectives ten years after the book concludes. We have to reflect upon relationships and events that occured throughout the book as well as what has happened between the end and ten years later to explore how they have been shaped as an individual. My question to you is as i am thinking of writing with Sarah’s point of view is what do you believe could have happened in her life since the book ended and what language style do you believe appropriately conveys her as you did throughout the novel? Any helpful tips would be appreciated.
Thanks and once again i really enjoyed the novel!!
While I haven’t finishe reading the book, and find it more interesting to read, I find that the way the the character compares her “Igbo” identity, and her “emerging British identity” makes the later seem barbaric. For example, she describes watching a movie as something extremely strange. You depiction of a typical Igbo village may have been more topical in the 70’s, but this seems to set my people back many decades. Assuming someone completely ignorate of Nigerian culture is reading this book, they may end up thinking that this is what Nigerian and particularly Igbos are like. I remember as a kid growing up in the U.S., I was so annoyed when people MADD comments such as, hey did you use to play with the monkeys in the tree and other animals? That used to annoy me because believe it or not, I (or any other Nigerian person I know) have never seen a monkey I its natural setting, I’ve only seen the at the Zoo. Most Nigerian villages, like many in the world have been modernized, and for the most part, people (at least in the 90’s and millennium) don’t live in the wild. I understand that you’re a writer, and you genuinely want to get an important message across (terrible things like that (the men coming and ….) happened in the past) and still happen in Northern Nigeria (among the Christians and Muslims) but please be considerate in explaining that this depiction is not typical of most Igbo villages. Village life is anything but glamourou, and I really am not one to speak much of it due to my limited exposure to living in the village, but what I do know is that like other countries have jumped on the band wagon of civilization, so has Nigeria, even many of its small villages.
I’m reading the book “little bee” and honestly, your portrait of an Igbo village in post 2000 years is anything but factual. You speak about forests, bush and monkeys, and as a Nigerian, raised in the U.S but never lost touch with my original home, I’d have to say that this story shows your lack of knowledge of the culture that you unsuccessfully tried to portrait. This book is quite insulting, and I regret ever purchasing it. There are great portions of this book, like chronicling the illegal immigrate’s experience in a detention center, but your irrisonsible insult of Igbo people is largely unforgivable. Shame on you.
Hi Chi-Chi, thanks for reading the novel and for your comments. I didn’t intend the book to be insulting, and I’m concerned that you saw it that way. Did you feel personally insulted, or do you consider that it insults a particular group? Also, if you can be specific about the parts of the book you found inaccurate then I’d be glad to discuss them with you. I will be prepared to learn from you and to admit it if the book has errors. You mention forests, bush and monkeys, all of which are present in the part of Nigeria the book covers. It also speaks of many other things in Nigeria, which is a large and diverse country. The novel concerns a particular area of the Delta region of Nigeria, where there is a complex conflict which produces a large number of refugees, many of whom arrive in the UK as Little Bee does. While I’m sure the novel hasn’t got everything right, I’d need you to be a little more specific in your criticisms before I could accept your judgement. At most, it seems to me that you might want to use examples to show where the novel is not accurately researched. To suggest that the novel is an insult or that I should be ashamed seems unwarranted. Thanks again for reading the book.
I quite enjoyed this novel, Little Bee, however, it took a while to get into the book as the beginning is quite slow, yet very well detailed. The swapping between Little Bee’s and Sarah’s point of view was well done and easy to follow. I was very drawn into the story line and found it hard to put down the book at some points, always wanting to know what Little Bee would do next. The reference to the hand leading up to the explanation of the missing finger was very effective as it urged me to read on and discover the reasoning behind it.
The ending is frustrating as I was left wondering what is going to happen to Little Bee.
I am interested to know why it is that you have chosen Batman as Charlies alter ego. Does it have to do with Batmans perticular morals or the way in which he carries out his duty, or is it simply a childhood favorite, incorporated into this story? Is there a deeper meaning behind the masked crusader?
After reading about two third of Little Bee, I’am really shaken up and I don’t know if I will finish the story, because yeah, I got the point, the terrible haunting point. I admire the way you write, so it’s not that I don’t like your book, on the contrary.
But, I am a grownup woman, I knew these things happen, your book made me really remembering it and now, I wish I were a female Batman who could stop these things from happening, but I am not, so I don’t know what to do. You did something and that is what I appreciate the most. Thank you for doing so. I wish I could think of another way.
Kerstin (The Netherlands)
“Little Bee” from a charity shop, “Incendiary” from the library … so conscience drove me today me to buy a real (new!) copy of “Gold” which I look forward to greatly. Little Bee was really excellent and took three days, Incendiary nearly up to the same standard and 24 hours. I’m really looking forward to Gold.
I was v amused by one reader’s plea for a sequel to “Bee”! But I confess reaching the end of such a powerful novel – unexpectedly as there were still a good number of pages left* in the paperback – was an awful let down!
*which I then discovered were the readers notes – which I did then devour faute de mieux!
Loved your response to m.Morrison.
Thank you for putting a face to an asylum seeker. There are many reasons for leaving your home country but knowing you will die if you stay should not be one of the reasons.
I really like your writing style and look forward to more books by Chris Cleave!
Hello, Mr. Cleave
I’m reading The Other Hand as a novel for my English A final exam in the International Baccalaureate – Actually I have an exam tomorrow with this work set alongside Nawal El Saadawi’s “Woman at Point Zero” for the Paper 2.
I just wanted to thank you for writing The Other Hand: I’d assume that handling one topic of the 9001 (shameless meme plug) themes imaginable for this novel would be tough enough to work with, and yet you shove all of them in between two cover sheets. Simply amazing.
When I started reading the novel I had imagined it would be tough as nails to read due to the heavy atmosphere and intonation surrounding the topics, but you convinced me otherwise.
Thank You for giving us in the IB2013 of Vasa Övningsskola Gymnasium in Finland a lot to work with but not a lot of work to actually do! 😉
Just finished LITTLE BEE. I cannot remember a book that I hated but this book
embraced everything evil and cruel mixed with deceit . The ending beyond sad and
leaving me with the feeling why did I read this terrible novel? I think you fooled us with
using a child to soften the cruelty of this story.
Hi M – I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy LITTLE BEE. Thanks for reading it and taking the time to comment. I’m not sure I agree that a novel can be deceitful in the way you suggest that mine is. It is what it is, and it goes where it goes. A story is a road that we set out along without the benefit of a map or an agreed destination, and the writer is not a tour guide who guarantees your safety. Ultimately a book leaves us back where we started, in our own life, but with the sensation of having traveled. If we didn’t enjoy the trip, there is at least the consolation that being back in our own daily life is an improvement.
sir while looking for a book for my daughter my eyes fell on incendiary i bought it and loved it thank you. i was born in surry bc lived in new westminster bc my clan comes from the village of cleave somewhere in england i live on vancouver island so i have realised how small the world is please continue to write . your work is important . your wife is french mine is japanese ive 4 childeren they speak japanese english and french .
Little Bee is a Great Book. Having Little Bee “die” when returning to the beach was a unique ending. Is there a real phenomena of refugees returning to sites that are extremely life threatening? She was forcibly repatriated, but ventured too far for any protection.
I have just finished the last page of the other hand, and instantly had to search to find out more about your writing. I read the other hand in a single sitting: 6 hours (with a break for snacks!) and I had to tell you I’ve never ever done that before! Never before has a book gripped me entirely from the first sentence and kept me hooked, horrified and hopeful through every twist and turn. I’m exhausted, and desperate to read your next book!
Hello again Chris,
I read it and savoured it. The after taste is till with me and will remain because the book is so delicious. Sad, disturbing but dealt with so much sensitivity and affection. Your detailed descriptions took me right in and held me there. I loved the switch between Little Bee’s version and Sarah’s even though some people in the book club were distracted by it.
I wish I could write like you.
What is the next project? How long do you take to research each book/ do you do it yourself or do you have a team helping you? Sorry for the many questions.
THIS BOOK IS VERY BAD. That is all.
Little Bee. What a fantastic read. With each page, there was a new story. My depiction of the ending was that Little Bee joined the children on the beach and waded into the water and never came back.
Thank you for writing this stunning novel. Your style of writing is very appealing to me. I was drawn into the story from sentence one and mesmerized through to the final word. I experienced the full range of emotions as I read this book, and although quite disturbing for the most part (I mockingly “cursed” my husband for giving it to me for Christmas and have now “sentenced” him to reading it himself), I could not put it down. Even though I say to myself (and my husband and son, both avid readers) that it was so depressing, I could not put it down. I was compelled to read it and think it and feel it. I was educated and entertained and I felt – deeply. Yes, the ending was very unsettling for me on the one hand (I need closure!), yet full of hope and promise on the other (Charlie took his Batman costume off, Little Bee shared her name with him, Charlie and the other children played side by side, no judgment, no fear…) Pure human connection here – and isn’t that what it’s all about?
Be well and write more 🙂
Patricia (Bethlehem, PA, USA)
What a wonderful read. We are discussing this book this Friday night at our reading group. I, myself, never wanted to put the book down. I live in the United States and love reading about other countries. I loved the two narrators too. It kept me interested the entire way through. I am a 42 year old mother of 3, and my oldest never took off his power ranger costume as a kid, so I really related to Charlie! I love the question you asked about if you liked Sarah or not. I immediately disliked the way she cheated, which made me dislike her. She also was a home wrecker to Andrew’s family as well as her own. While she was completely selfish of the flesh, she was also selfless in the heart by saving Little Bee. I found myself torn as to liking Sarah or not. As far as Little Bee. I loved her sense of humor and survival and her edginess. She had far less fear then Sarah. Two totally different cultures and characters, yet so much respect for each others lives. I also like when books lead the reader to find their own “happily every after.” Kudos from me for a book well written!
I have always scoffed and failed to understand when a front cover screams ‘page turner’ or ‘ i couldnt put it down!’ but this has literally just happened to me whilst reading Little Bee. I am visiting cold snowy Alberta, Canada and the intro of inside cover certainly intrigued me to buy this book Chris… very clever. But i was not prepared for the intense beauty and soaring emotions i would feel whilst reading it… It made me feel shame and anger to be British.. and helplessness to the cause of all the atrocities occurring every minute in this world. It helped me on many levels…to understand the refugees plight when I live with racist and prejudiced parents and Canadian husband even! I have brought my own (from former marriage) three kids up as open minded as I can-as Sarah tries with Charlie. I wanted to take Little Bee into my home forever- her joy at the summer dress… on eating the bird seeds… there are so many moments that will stay with me… You are a master at entwining the characters lives within our own psyche.
I began to read this book yesterday at 2pm for 4 hours then finished it in an hour this morning and it amuses me at some of the comments from other readers who craved an ‘ending’ as if it was a soap comedy or something. To know that Little Bee was free in her mind and had laid her sister to rest was so beautiful and brave- I will be seeking out your other novels and lending this one, respectfully to a chosen few.
Chris, I just finished _Little Bee_. I’ve added it, and my little blue (Canadian) passport, to the list of books that have changed my life. As a Westerner, I live a privileged life. I am acutely aware of that. The forces which swept up Sarah and Little Bee are now an even more visible part of my world, and I know I will be seeing and thinking of them often as I go about my daily life. The importance of a personal integrity, of compassion for oneself and others, of the consequences of choice and chance! And that soft green glow of hope. Thanks so much for sharing your perspectives and your words with the rest of us.
Hi Sharon – many thanks for your kind words. I still think one’s passport is the best book one can ever own!
I loved Little Bee and truly thought she would meet Sarah and become her nanny or housekeeper, never expecting what followed. Being a “Free American”, I generally do not focus on things that are going on in Africa and the horrors these people endure.
My only complaint, I need to know what happens to Sarah, Little Bee, and Charlie. I am not so naive as not to think, the worst is about to happen.
When it is my turn for our Book Club meeting, I am going to suggest Little Bee. I am sad for her. Was this at all based on a true experience.
I am looking forward to reading The Other Hand.
Our daughter, Dr. Valerie Weiss is a writer and Director in Hollywood. Google her first film at http://www.losingcontrolmovie.com. It has been in over thirty film festivals.
Hope to hear from you about Sarah and Little Bee and Charlie
Sincerely, Benita (Bonnie)Weiss
I picked up The Other Hand by pure chance when I was buying a John Grisham novel (something of a guilty pleasure) and the shop I was in was running a buy one get one free offer on books. I’m about four chapters in and if John Grisham is a guilty pleasure I will be shouting ‘Chris Cleave’ from the roof tops. Keep up the good work.
I just heard about The Other Hand through my book club and googled it. The first chapter has me hooked. I LOVE your writing style…am off to buy the book right now…..
Thanks Dheera – hope you will enjoy the rest of it
I picked up your book from a friend in Australia and could not for the life of me put it down. It’s inspired me to action and I have chosen to monitor the work of charities more carefully so I can scratch the surface of issues and properly understand them. I think we can become lazy and self-consumed and I want to make sure my decisions can be as well-informed as they can be.
I look forward to reading all of your books and those of your favourite authors.
Hi Paul – thanks for your kind comment. Delighted the book meant something to you.
oh my G-d..what can I say, but fabulous….from the first page to the last .
As I read, I would call friends and tell them to buy Little Bee..Hope they do or they will be missing this powerful story.
Thank you introducing the world to Little Bee
I thought the book was very moving and extremely well written, but I, too, am disappointed at the end. I just finished it. I yearn for some kind of resolution, especially a more positive one. I don’t like being left hanging…..
I look forward to reading more of your books, Chris.
We read Little Bee yesterday for our book club in Northern Virginia, USA. We all enjoyed the book very much and had good discussion. Luckily my children 26year and 29years old could participate in the discussion. My son had read the book in hs Business school and highly recommended me to read.
There was a doubt in the group If Sarah english or american? Could you respond please. What crime did Little Bee do and her life is in danger in Nigeria, then why Sarah could not adopt her in a more legal way to save all the agony.
I liked the title Little Bee, because I feel bee is tiny and stings hard at the same time gives sweet honey what most people love. Her stinging answers to Lawrence exhibits the title name.
Looking forward to read more of your books and best wishes.
Thank you for a wonderful piece of fiction based on the horrors of society but told in such a way as to be entertaining. The dual narration by Little Bee and Sarah was perfect. Each character was developed in such a way that I felt as though I knew him/her. While I was not really pleased by the ending, I now realize that it was the best way to do it; it allows me and all readers to think for ourselves. Of course, I know that Little Bee will survive and thrive. My book club recently hosted an evening where Richard Cote spoke about his book, Mary’s Place, an historical account of the Pringle family prior to, during, and after the U.S. civil war. How excited we all were to have an author of a renowned book that we had read as our guest. Your Q & A about Little Bee was just as exciting for me, even though you are not here in person. The book was wonderful, and your answers about how it developed were just as wonderful. If you’re ever in South Carolina to speak, I know we’d all enjoy hearing you. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.
I throughly enjoyed Little Bee; the switch back and forth on the point of view is an interesting way to read a story. It started slow, not defining the purpose of her musings, then the story picked up and charged forward. A question: on their honeymoon, “Charlie was concieved”; at the funeral, Sarah thinks about her husband of “eight years” (Charlie is only four). The other concern is when they are at the bridge/river in London and Charlie gets lost; both Sarah and Lawrence know that Little Bee is afraid of the police, yet she is sent to direct the police when they come – did Lawrence do that on purpose? And lastly, for what crime is Little Bee wanted when she returns to Nigeria, and why would Sarah’s presence stop it.
a few days before moving to India last summer, a friend of mine dumped a pile of books onto the picnic cloth we were both sitting on and said, here, can’t take these with me; and because my place is a mess the pile served as a door-stopper all throughout the summer when it was so hot you could only sleep with the windows and doors wide open. And then last night I started to tidy up a bit, and since that never goes very far with me, I quickly ended up pulled “The Other Hand” out of the stack – and now it’s lunchtime the next day, I’ve dried off my tears after the ending, haven’t had time to eat yet but have already ordered your other two books, and I just wanted to tell you, like everyone else here, you got it right. So damn right. I work with refugees, and I lived three years in West Africa, and still, I think part of my tears were also about the realization that despite all that, it’s so easy to just draw a line around yourself and forget. There is a Lawrence in all of us. Thank you for writing this book. If I ever move to India, I won’t leave it behind. But I might buy an extra copy and leave that one with a busy friend, knowing the day will come when she’ll be ready for it. Keep writing, you can be sure we’ll keep reading it.
Just finished Little Bee. Our library book club will be discussing it next week, in Cheney, Washington. I am grateful that the group chose your book. It was entertaining to read, and also educational. I just traveled to Namibia this summer…it is considered a “safe” country to visit in Africa. I learned a lot about Africa while there, but learned even more just by reading your well-researched novel. It is difficult to identify with people from third world countries, living our relatively safe American lives. But reading Little Bee was helpful and informative. Thank you for writing it.
Thank you Margaret.
I have just finished reading Little Bee. Thank you for your magnetic and moving story. Your writing has the ability to entertain while elevating the reader to consider the cold and frightening realities of a world torn and distorted by greed.
We can all easily be a positive force of kindness and tolerance, and share what peace and comfort we can each offer to those struggling in this often cruel world. Just a kind word, or a generous gesture can make a world of difference to a fellow soul.
Thanks for a great read!
Just finished Little Bee and to me the ending was a “cop-out”. It did not define hope or failure. Sarah and Bee were both very strong characters and I felt that they would accomplish what they set out to do and that was to set Bee free but was she. I do not know. The hand of the soldier was on her arm so I think she was led away to captivity. What a shame
Excellently written story, I loved and hated it— hated because I couldn’t wrap my head around all the violence. Unlike other readers, I don’t have a problem with the ending. What has bothered me like no other story has bothered me before is the violence Little Bee’s sister suffered— I have to know, was that based on reality? Does this level of torture happen to people in Nigeria? What made those men such horrible people to do that to a young girl? Rape, I figured was going to happen, but the rest, I just don’t understand why they couldn’t have just killed her and been done with it. Why torture her? Also, I still am unsure exactly how the finger thing worked— Sara’s finger saved Little Bee so I’m assuming these were tolkens to prove they had killed those who witnessed the village burning and slaughter, but why couldn’t they have taken a finger from the young man they killed on the beach for one of the girls? He’d already been killed anyway. I guess I’m too soft, I just can’t get the violence of her death out of my head and it horrifies me to think that people are really going through this kind of death, and for what? Anyway, otherwise it was a great read, thanks for opening all our lazy western eyes to the plights of refugees!
I ordered your book months ago and it sat on my nightstand. I am on the East Coast for vacation and finally picked it up to read after my friend posted a picture of it on her FB page and stated” A MUST READ”. I could not put the book down and finished it in two days. It was intriguing and your writing is beautiful and very descriptive. I felt that I knew the characters and understood where they were coming from. I was impressed with your surprises throughout the book, never would have guessed some of it. I will have to tell you that the one VERY DISAPPOINTING part about the book is the ending. I do not want to “imagine” what happens to Little Bee. I want to read it and know. I feel as if you took such care to slowly take your reader on this path and then you abruptly ended it… I do not like to read books with this kind of ending. I am sorry to say, I was so excited to loan it to my friends and tell them all about it but the ending is not one that I love so I cannot give it my 100% recommendation.Why did you end it this way? I have to agree with another comment that says the ending is “lazy”. I am very disappointed .
Chris, I just finished Little Bee and fell into the pages along side Little Bee and Sarah. Oh my. I cannot even begin to imagine either of their lives. My Book Club of 33 years is reading this and I am the discussion leader this Friday. There is so much to talk about in this story and then I want to do research on Nigeria and the refugee reality. Wow. Where do I begin? You have written a “little epic” about African women refugees that has captured the heart of the reader. As I continue to prepare for Friday, Little Bee is hauntingly before me on the beach….
Just finished Little Bee and I loved it! I am going to recommend it to all of my friends. Also, I will have my wife read it, which means that I will have to let her have my iPad to read it on, which is rare that I let someone else have it. In terms of technique I loved the two very distinct voices of the women in the story. In my mind’s ear I could clearly discern two separate voices, complete with tones, emotions, intonation and that helped to make both Sarah and Little Bee real people to me. I loved and will now buy your other books; digital editions, after my wife is done with my IPad, of course.
Little Bee is such a profound read. Chris-you do an excellent job of exposing elements of mass rape and genocide that plague countries in Africa. We need more exposure to those issues in an entertaining, clever, amusing, poignant way like you do.
I have wrestled with the ending in my mind for days after finishing the book. I love the descriptions of Charlie and the Nigerian children together–how their innocence allow them to embrace each other. I think Chris provides hope for the future through these children, as well as showing that we are all human beings. It doesn’t matter whether your African, British, or American when you are raped in Nigeria or USA, hear your sister brutally murdered before you, fear for your life every second–we are all human beings, as Little Bee would say, and we all experience the same emotions.
As far as Little Bee, I believe that Sarah will do whatever it takes to give her freedom and eventually she will return to England with her family–Charlie, Little Bee, and her. As Little Bee says to Sarah”we are the girls back home now.” When the soldiers arrive on the beach, Sarah tells Charlie that they will do more to save her and will never give up (pg. 261). I also think that Sarah will use her journalism position and skills to publish the stories she has collected to expose the horrific events in Nigeria.
I am an English mother of 3 who spent the first 12 years of her life, and then some, in Nigeria as an expatriate’s daughter. I have spent time in both Lagos and Abuja. I was astonished, intrigued and delighted by your novel Little Bee/The Other Hand.
Growing up there, I have so many vivid memories of many frightening situations and although did not experience,first hand, the beach atrocities you describe they seem so familiar. Many bad events happened on the beaches in Lagos.
I absolutely loved the inner strength and resolve of Little Bee’s beautiful character. I identified with Sarah. I felt the anguish of poor Andrew. I loved the way you entered these women’s minds and created them. What an incredible job you did….
I loved the ending, although I yearned for a happier one.
This was an extremely thought provoking book from many different levels: the exposure of the detention centers, the amazing humanness and fight of Little Bee, the fabulous portrayal of Vivette’s Jamaican sexyness, and the brutality of the men in the first beach scene, and in later descriptions when Little Bee recounts to Sarah her sisters horrific death….these are just a few of the things that make this book so wonderful…thank you,
Dear Mr. Cleave, Hi! I finished “Little Bee” today and had to write and thank you for an amazing book. I will tell all everyone how good it is and get them to read it too. I am familiar with refugees (Mexico, Central, Latin & South America, Cuba etc.) when I lived in TX and there are lots of African refugees in NZ, but your book with Little Bee’s viewpoint was superb and I found myself much more compassionate towards them. My ancestors where Irish & very much rebuffed in the US three generations ago. I found out about your book via Goodreads on Facebook and heaps of people recommended your book and I picked it up at LAX coming back to NZ. Thank you again and God Bless you. x 🙂
Being a dutchy and living in the south of Spain I found your book in an English charity shop and I am sooooo happy that I picked it up.
First of all I really like your style of writing and I will certainly read your other books.
About the subject: I keep on asking myself if people from the “western world” ever ask themselves what they would have done if they would have been born in a “Third world country”. I have the feeling that many never thought about that.
Thank you for this book and I wish you all the best.
I am writing from Germany and like to apologize for potential grammatical mistakes in advance.
I bought your book last saturday and finished reading it sunday morning. The story captured me because of the way you have described the life of certain people in Nigeria in a very detailed and penetrative manner.
I do travel to Nigeria (mostly to Lagos, Abuja and Abeokuta) frequently since 1993. Around this time there was a cruel military government ruling.
During reading, I remembered vividly how it was back then. Even though nothing bad ever happened to me personally, I have seen soldiers as you have characterized. The first time in my life, I have seen dead people at the roadside in Lagos due to the sudden tensions after Abiola’s death in 1998. While in 2007 the most violent military actions happened in the Delta region, the south of the country, where I have been at that time, remained peaceful. Then, I did not know about the violence. It needs books like yours to keep telling what happens in Nigeria until today!
Thank you very much
Bought Little Bee in the Las Vegas airport last night and began reading it as I left the most fake city on earth.
This story is gut wrenching reality told in excruciatingly beautiful prose. I could not put it down and was compelled to visit your site to find out more.
I love the idea that scars do not form unless we are alive. This is a haunting life story.
I hope to read more of your work.
I absolutely love your books and I wish there were more writters out there who are willing to write books in the way you do. I found Little Bee both entertaining and educational, and this is how I think novels should be. I really look forward to reading your future works.
I absolutely loved Little Bee. A friend gave it to me to read and it took me an entire year to pick it up and once i did, i couldn’t set it down. Totally gripping. The torture and inhumane treatment by the soldiers made me mad, upset and sick to my stomach but the realization that this actually takes place in some countries opened my eyes. I live in USA and we take so many things for granted here. Thanks for writing this awesome awesome book. I’m going to purchase all your books.
Thank you for such an amazing story. I sometimes work with refugees in my job in Vermont. Some of them have waited many years in refugee camps in countries neighboring theirs before coming to the U.S. Their stories are the most important thing they have because the story is what substantiates their need for refuge. Imagine having to tell your story again and again over the years and having to make sure each time you tell it that it doesn’t deviate because if it does that will be used against you – it must not be true because it’s different from the first time you told it, perhaps 15 or 20 years ago.
I just finished reading Little Bee after a somewhat interrupted reading. I put it down for a few weeks when the ending approached me. I had to take a break to prepare my self for what was coming. I loved this book, but what I loved the most was your suprising ability to portray a young girl of a different cultural background so convincingly. You were able to make her come to life believably and authentically. It’s an astonishing and rare skill to be able to cross cultures and in your case it goes hand in hand with marvelous writing skills. I look forward to reading everything you have or ever will write.
I don’t want this to sound like hate mail BUT … I didn’t like this book.
I read ‘The Other Hand’ because the editor wrote a foreword comparing it to ‘Cloud Atlas’. ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘highly intelligent’, apparently.
I don’t think so.
It is melodramatic. “Oh God, Bee, I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’ve forgotten how to cope.” Presumably said tremulously, while holding the back of her hand to her forehead.
It’s not that well written, IMHO. For example, four year olds don’t say ‘mine daddy’ – they do make grammatical mistakes, but not, in my experience, the ones used in this book. This kid’s mistakes didn’t ring true and I found them jarring. In fact there’s a lot about this book that didn’t ring true.
Like other readers, I wondered if ‘Chris’ was short for Christine, so well does this book pander to the millions of self-styled strong feisty independent women out there, who ‘find themselves’ in a process that usually involves adultery with a waiter in Tuscany.
The men in this story are too skinny, too fat, too weak or too boring; the women are the heroes.
The message is not new.
Man bad. Cowardly, despicable bad. ‘It hurts Andrew. It hurts, you shit’. (Oh, and there’s that melodramatic tremor in the voice again). I mean, imagine the roles reversed, gunman demands woman chop her finger off, woman refuses, man does it, calls woman a shit. No, I can’t either.
Woman good. Magazine-owning finger-chopping good. Good enough to have affairs with impunity.
And how how enlightened (and profitable) of a man to point this out.
I guess that’s my main gripe with the book. The women are good, the men are bad, and the heroine is entitled to go have an affair once she ’emerges from the chrysalis of early motherhood’ and realises husband isn’t ‘the one’. Her affair partner (is a male mistress a mister?!) is married too. At one point Sarah pulls back out of respect to her affair partner’s wife. There you go again – woman worthwhile, man not.
But ‘man bad woman good’ has been said so many times already in so many books, magazines, TV programmes etc. It’s false and it’s a cliche, a destructive one at that.
The Other Hand is not just dumb, it’s harmful. It normalises adultery, encourages it even. It’s the mark of a successful brave independant (etc etc) woman who knows her own mind.
Adultery also kills families, quite literally, in this novel and in real life.
A quote from the author: “I’d moved on from considering myself as an outraged – and blameless – observer, which I guess is where I was at with Incendiary. A year on, I realised that people like me are often part of the problem.”
I just finished Little Bee, and I feel betrayed. The book starts with a captivating chapter inviting the reader to see something they have never seen before. The ads talk about a story of “human triumph”. But in the middle of the book, one discovers the extramarital affair that Sarah has with a truly unremarkable person. Then, Little Bee dies in the end. There is no hope, only a well written, but very dark story. Why did the author put Sarah on the plane (an unexpected rescue) only to have Little Bee finally caught by the soldiers from whom she had escaped years ago? If the reason was to expose the tragedy in Nigeria, it also provided no hope of solution. So, what good does the education do us since it also supports the hopelessness of personal courage against such a tragedy. The book took a few dark turns in the middle, and never emerged. No hope. The ad on the back of the book urges everyone (in Little Bee’s voice) not to tell the story to anyone, so as not to spoil the surprise. I will follow this advice, but simply urge everyone not to read it, because the entire story is only depressing.
I listened to the audio version (CD) of Little Bee. I loved the way the book was performed. I did miss something and hope someone can answer this for me. Why was Little Bee with Andrew when he committed suicide? What did she tell Sarah about the event? Thank you. Linda
I just finished Little Bee, after starting it yesterday. It was truly engrossing, entertaining, and at times, excrutiating. My daughter asked me this morning if I thought she would enjoy reading it, and when I hesitated, she asked why. I told her that it was a great book, but I was very unhappy with the ending. I wanted to know exactly what happened to Little Bee. Then, it struck me…Little Bee spends her life planning how she will “end it” if the “men come suddenly.” The men do come suddenly. They have already shot at Charlie. They would not hesitate to shoot Udo if she should run. She could swim out to sea until she drowns. She could have ended her life right there and avoided all that she was about to encounter, but she didn’t! Little Bee chooses to live, and there is HOPE in that!
I just finished reading Little Bee last night, and like many other readers it has left a deep impression on me. While I was fascinated with her story, Sarah’s story spoke to me perhaps even a bit more. I think you did a brilliant job of bringing her to life. I was surprised to read that some people didn’t like her character. I suppose I empathized with her constantly changing emotions and perceptions as her life swirled around her.
But I really wanted to share something in response to your statement in the answer to the first question above, where you talk about your last name being the only word that has two synonyms that are antonyms of each other. I must respectfully (and word-playfully) add that the word “sanction” fits this bill as well: it can mean a prohibition or a ban, as in “economic sanctions”, but it can also mean an approval, as in something having the “sanction of the court.”
Love your writing, love your word-images (the clear bag and the yellow sari girl)…please continue!!!
I was looking into little bee/the other hand after remembering reading it and I was really suprised at the mixed reviews. I think it was one of the best books I have read and admire how much research must have gone into producing it. I can not fathom how much time and effort must have been put in to making sure that the storyline and characters could become realistic and really touch the reader as it has done for me. It really is an inspirational book.
I loved Little Bee/The Other Hand and I look forward to reading your next novel.
It took me three days to read this incredible novel! I could not put it down. I was not aware of the oil conflict in Nigeria. Additionally, the book brought an awareness of refugees/immigrants and the fear they encounter & immigration laws. Thank you for writing “Little Bee”; I cannot wait to purchase”The Other Hand.” Thanks.
Hi, I found your book on a balcony in Greece last week, I couldn’t put it down and left my current read there so I could take your book with me to finish. I’ve read some of Teresa Hayter’s book ‘Open Borders’. Where can I get more up to date world/European immigration figures? Also more positive information/facts about immigration and the contributions/benefits which are made by immigrants and regufees (when allowed to). I’m sick of people being so negative about people trying to ‘be’ in a safer place. I was horrified about the treatment of the people in the detention centres and that they’re in there in the first place. Your book made me sob and laugh out loud consecutively, it’s also led me into very heated debates about immigration and refugees lives. Sorry to go on, I’m touched and will recommend the read to the most unlikely to choose your book and all of my friends. Thank you.
It isn’t often that I have been handed a book that I casually accept, I begin to read and then ignites a language more powerful than the words convey. I liken
it to the language of sleep, where your emotions live, but no sound is heard by your ears, only by your eyes and your soul. Both see, hear and feel. To me, the book intertwines the language of love and acceptance, crafted wisely and technically.
Hi Chris from Ohio, USA
I just finished your book and cannot say enough in praise of it. I tend to have an intuitive feel for where a novel is going but you kept surprising me over and over. Am also deeply touched by the soulfulness of this story and the characters of Little Bee, Sarah and Charlie. So many lovely phrases sparkling w/pathos and wisdom… Thank you for a most enjoyable read that remains with me yet. Looking forward to reading more of your work. Michelle Rahm
Thank you Michelle.
I am not so familiar with British writers but thankfully accept suggestions from some of our national newspapers. I enjoyed your book on many levels, and I will certainly read “Incendiary.” As a US citizen, I did NOT know that such asylum centers exist in Britain. Since the US is on the verge of addressing our illegal alien “problem,” the relevance of your research (albeit expose) cannot be understated. I compliment both your writing and your willingness to be so honest! By the way, I thought that Charlie symbolized raw honesty breaking down all people into “goodies” and “baddies.” I know you leave much interpretation up to your readers, so you may add mine to the rest. Kudos and best wishes! Helen Houghton
I’m so glad I read this book, and have more written by you to look forward to. The line about scars being beautiful keeps coming back to my mind, even weeks after I finished reading Little Bee. In addition to being a wonderful read, it made me think more deeply about immigration. I live in the U.S., in Iowa, where there was a raid on a packing house which used a lot of illegal immigrants. They were taken to what used to be a cattle confinement and held there pending trial. It was horrifying. I believe we need limits on immigration, but there has to be a better way of dealing with it.
Hello Mr Cleave, I picked up Little Bee recently -what a profoundly enjoyable read it is! It’s a fantastic novel! I can hardly put it down.
Quick question, though. In chapter two, where Sarah met the two police officers in her workplace, it was around 10:30 AM, and she had texted Andrew earlier. But how come she’d only gotten the reply by the time those men arrived? Didn’t their reports concluded the incident at nine thirty? That’s a considerable delay, unless it was somebody else who sent the text from Andrew’s mobile. Apologies for asking such a trivial issue, I just found this discrepancy a bit puzzling. Or are mobile networks in Britain really that bad…!
I thought she was taken into custoday and would be killed for what she witnessed. It was sad for me.
I am an AP English student and I recently finished reading your novel Little Bee. A group of my classmates and I read and discussed it as part of a Literature Circle project. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! It was compelling and it captivated my attention from beginning to end. My group members found it equally intriguing as well.
One aspect of the novel we found interesting was how it was written using the first person narrative of two different characters. It was very refreshing to read the story from such diverse perspectives. Having two people tell the story allowed us to piece the information together, bit by bit, which added to the suspense of finding out what happened on the beach. Clever.
After a couple of group discussions, however, we are not completely sure that we’re satisfied with the ending. It seemed to be kind of a cliffhanger, and there was some confusion as to what actually happens to Little Bee. Does she die? Do the soldiers take her away? If so, where do they take her? Personally, I thought the soldiers just took her back into custody, which leads me to another question. Why are they coming after Little Bee if she is back in her home country? Are they really still chasing her because of what she witnessed a few years back?
If you get the chance, we would love to hear back from you!
First of all, I saw your book “Little Bee” in a book store. I often read the comments of critics and the first page of the book. It sounded like my type of story, so I borrowed a copy from the local library. I’m now starting on Chapter 9. Can’t wait to finish; and yet don’t want it to end. Such smooth transitions into each Chapter and event. Eloquent. Now….I don’t expect you to post this (hope you don’t) because I don’t want this to sound like criticism……. In Chapter 8 (bottom of 201) Sarah is rolling her forehead against the window, which “makes Clarissa nervous”, and then (bottom of p.203) [Clarissa turned to me. I noticed the very slight mark of foundation left on the windowpane where her forehead had been.] It’s such a trivial thing, but I am curious…..has there been another printing of the book with that changed, or am I being dense?
Hello, I finished reading Little Bee about five minutes ago. I loved it and I loved Odu. I have my own ideas about the ending and I am not asking for an answer, (I know that literature can always be interpreted differently) , but I would just like your opinion on what happens at the ending. What do you believe becomes of Odu?
Thank you for such a wonderful novel,
In addition, I completely disagree with Mary’s aversion to the use of language. The best part of this book is the emotional rawness and reality in the characters and their speech. As legitimate as Yevette and Odu’s way of speaking is, so is the vocabulary of the British characters. The extension of the vernacular only adds to the story’s reality.
hi chris, fantastic novel. i picked it up at new york airport and finished it before reaching australia- i couldn’t put it down! I am part of a book club and it is my next pick for the group to read. Your book highlights a very important issue, my sister is a refugee lawyer in the uk so I know a little bit about the issue but your book helped me to learn more and inspired me to do further research and take some action (not sure what yet!)
My bookclub meets next Monday, March 28 and I am presenting the report.. I would like to know an approximate date of the events in Little Bee and what is going on in Nigeria at that time..
Chris, I read because I love stories. I am completely frustrated with the ending of “Little Bee”. You leave way too much for the reader to speculate. Is this a story of hope or despair? You say you want to leave it up to the reader to finish the tale, well I am completely and utterly perplexed. I think you got lazy, sorry.
Dear Chris, What a beautifully written story. Your rhythm is perfect and I wonder how on earth you do it. Little Bee is so smart and funny too although very dark humor. I read the ending twice looking for hope and found it only in the heart of Little Bee.
I am not much of a reader but just finished Little Bee a few hours ago, while my double oven was being installed in my home. The men completely ruined and scratched up my cabinets. Normally I would be outraged and vocally loud about it. When I told friend and fellow book club reader of LB what had happend, she said I seemed so mellow, out of character in my voice. I said frankly, it’s because of Little Bee.
How could anyone get angry about anything after reading about this beautiful girls life. Thank you for the perfectly timed gift of perspective.
I have chosen Little Bee to facilitate at our Book Club’s next meeting. I have read it twice, and love the choices you have made re the major themes in the book. Individual decisions and choices, integrity, the human condition, personal and global concepts, victim vs survivor, determination, triumph of the human spirit, and identity to name a few. Thank you for this book of major substance, one that gives the reader so very much to think about!
I loved your book, “Little Bee”. It was sad and surprisising and shocking and happy all at the same time. Will you write another book about Little Bee and continue her story as she grows up, or did she die?
Tonight is our book club meeting and we are discussing “Little Bee”. I totally loved it. As hard as the subject matter is, the difficulties Little Bee has to endure, I am overwhelmed by how you reflected Human Nature and the power to CHOOSE not to be a victim. No one should have to go through these inhumane experiences to build ones character, but you captured the essence of our will as a people to find the joy and love in all these and especially in each other. We are a flawed people but we are doing better when we know better. Thank you for educating all of us in the struggles people go through to find safety in another Country. The “vulgarity” mentioned by Mary to you, just shows us how Sarah is human, like us all, at times there is no better word….
I finished reading Little Bee a month ago.well crafted novel, I don’t think this book could have been better, every one at my house has read it but we all struggle with the ending, we all want to believe that the soldiers took little to prison and some how she survived. Every time I talk to some one who has read the book, they always ask me this question “what did you think of the ending?” or “what do you think happened to Little Bee?” So since the ending of this book left many people with a lot to think about, I think, Chris, you should write another book, Part two of Little Bee, and in the Book, it could be Sarah in England and she is telling the story of what happened to her and Charlie after Little Bee was taken away and Little Bee could be writing from prison too, or something like that. You are really smart and very creative Chris, you can make this work.
I picked up this book in an airport and could not put it down! I mainly wanted to compliment you on how incredibly well written this is. So many times I would stop to read a sentence a second time, amazed at how brilliant the writing was! I will be going out to purchase your other two books! Thanks!
I’m a university student and am currently taking a popular genres course. My class just finished “Little Bee” and we all enjoyed it very much. We’ve had several discussions in class about the novel and one question in particular strikes me as the most interesting: What elements of the novel would you say work to provoke conversation about the “Western” world’s role in helping people like Little Bee? We’ve talked about several possibilities but we were wondering if you personally had intentions to use the story as a means of generating awareness about refugees/third world countries/Western governments, and how did you try to achieve it?
I’ve been discussing your novel with some fellow readers and I have a few questions. Why did you decide to to write from the perspective of the two women? I understand that they are the “main characters”, but why did you pick them instead of another character like Charlie? Also, what difficulties did you face as you explored the issues of morality from a female point of view? Was it easier or more difficult to rationalize their moral decisions as you wrote from a gender different from your own?
I too have just finished reading The Other Hand and cannot believe you are commenting on this. The novel is beautifully written, thought provoking and I’m about to buy copies for my children and all my friends who read fiction. This is a memorable book for all the right reasons.
I just finshed reading “Little Bee”& found it very facinating. My one complaint is the filthy language. You are a talented writer. Why do you have to stoop to low class & include this type of unnecessary language. Are you afraid that a book won’t sell otherwise? NOT! Out of a dirty mind comes dirty language!
Hi Mary, thanks for reading the book. As to your complaint, it might be a useful exercise for you to consider the possibility that I could find your comment as debased as you find my novel’s characters’ use of everyday English vocabulary. As it happens I’m not offended by your comment, but since we are discussing the fine use of language I might point out that while my characters may have indirectly offended your sensibilities, with your last sentence you directly insult mine. By making this point I hope to elucidate for you the distinction between coarseness and vulgarity.
Hi Chris – bit of a random request!
I teach secondary school English and my year 13 (A-level) students are about to start their final unit, a comparative study. I have chosen to explore and teach your wonderful novel ‘The Other Hand’ as I read it last year and fell in love with it! The students have the option of what text to compare and contrast with it and I was wondering if you had any thoughts about what novels would be a good match? Any that you feel explore the same issues, use the same narrative techniques, have similar genres and so on?
Would love to hear what you thought… Hopefully hear from you soon.
Thank you, Naomi
I join your audience–Bravo. I’ve just finished reading and at first wondered about the ending. Of course it had to leave me there, wondering about Udo. The asylum question remains that. Thank you for raising my awareness. Mary kay Ring
We are discussing “Little Bee” at our book club tonight. I know one of the big discussion quesstions will be the ending. Did they kill our beloved Little Bee or was she spared because of her friendship with Norah and the investigative work? Is there going tro be another novel to answer that question? Also is a move possible?
Laurel Park Book Club
Sugar Hill, Georgia
I came upon your book by chance and I’m so pleased that I did. I do voluntary work with a charity that helps asylum-seekers and I get so frustrated with the negative attitudes about them, which seem to be so prevalent, and also with the inhumane workings of the asylum system itself. It was therefore wonderful to read your novel which showed the realities in such an interesting readable way, which must hopefully have touched so many people and changed their perceptions.
Incidentally, I feel that those who ask you what happened to Little Bee afterwards are missing the point. Her character is fictional, but the point is that many asylum-seekers are deported into real danger such as in the novel, where there is a strong possibility that they will be tortured and/or killed and we should not let this continue to happen.
Thanks again for writing your excellent book. Do you know when your next one will be published?
Hello from Israel. I do not use Twitter nor Facebook (somehow my privacy is more important to me than being social).
I stumbled upon your book accidentally at our library. I never heard about it before. I must admit I felt deeply ashamed, at times, while reading
the book. I had no idea. We have thousands of refugees trying to enter Israel every month but its always just a newspaper item.
Suddenly I saw the faces behind the news. I admire your writing, the human way you described the events, the mirror it put
in front of my face. I think your book should be read by policy-makers around the world. Thank you for enabling me a wider
perspective, and in-spite of a terrible sadness such exceptional reading.
Who is being depicted in the small profile within Little Bee’s Profile on the cover illustration? I assume it is either Sarah Or Little Bee’s sister “Kindness”.
Hi Eileen – that’s a good question. I don’t know. I’ve always imagined it’s Sarah but I never asked the artist.
UPDATE! Hello again Eileen – my dad has just said that he thinks the small head inside Little Bee’s eye on the jacket is meant to be the Queen’s head on the back of the British pound coin, and illustrates Little Bee viewing the world through the filter of the Queen’s English. I think this is much better than my idea!
i hope i am leaving a question, not a reply. anyway, chris- the 1st question on your website is about the two different titles, the other hand and little bee, but i didnt see a reason. i saw a political response, but not a REASON. renewed interest? copyrighting? silly reason? good reason? your biggest fans, even the ones who can’t type, want to know.
more importantly, how does a young englishman have such an impossible insight into the awesome reverse vernacular of a female nigerian refugee? let alone her psyche? care to share? furthermore, even a woman of your own socio-economic background, astounding enough- clearly you are uncomfortable with blatant praise, so i’n giving you a chance to tell us all how you’ve cheated- heh, heh. thank you for the book/experience.
Hi Trish – thanks for your kind comments. I don’t know what more I can say about the two titles. I have different editors in the UK and the US; one liked one title and the other liked the other – that’s just how it works. With regard to the voices I use in the novels, I spend a lot of time thinking and interviewing people & listening to their speech patterns before I start to write. I suppose that’s why it takes me so long to write my books. Little Bee took about three years, and the one I’m currently finishing has taken about three years too. I guess the analogy would be with stop-frame animation – you have to do weeks of painstaking work to produce ten seconds of footage that is convincing. So I don’t really have any cheats or secrets. I just work consistently at the task until the voices start to ring true. If you could see my early drafts, you’d see that I struggle just like anyone else, and that the voices do not come naturally to me! Thanks again for your kind words – I’m delighted you liked the results.
Hello again, Chris! I am writing again because I still have not picked up a signed copy of “Little Bee” or “The Other Hand” even though you were nice enough to point me in the right direction the last time I wrote. I’m hoping to get a copy for Christmas (fingers crossed). I just saw that you will be having and “Incendiary” event at a CT book store in January. I got very excited until I realized I have tickets to a Broadway show the SAME day! What are the chances? I would really love to attend an instore event to see you speak and possibly get a book signed in person. Will there be any other East Coast events around the CT one? Please let me know! Thank you.
Hi Jessica, thanks for your message – yes, there will be other East Coast events in NYC, CT and Boston, although I don’t know the exact schedule yet. I will post it on my website as soon as I have it, and it would be great to meet you at one of the events if you can make it. Thanks & all best, Chris
Hi from Montreal. We just had our book club meeting and we all loved the book for different reasons. I loved how wise Little Bee was. Our question is does Little Bee die at the end? I thought she did but most of the group said no she went off with the soldiers. Is it up to the reader to decide?
Thanks for a great read!
I loved your book. I learned things that will be with me until the end of my life.
Regards from Brazil!
Hello, Chris: I just finished “Little Bee”, which I read in one day…could not put it down. I do not remember crying so much while and after reading a book. Your characters are so real, none flawless…and Little Bee is definitely a poet…I am so in love with her…how could Sarah not adopt her? What a silly question…
It hurts my heart to know that all of what you discuss is so horrifyingly real. The laws, the indifference, the horror of what some people can perpetrate against other innocent people, the unspeakable tortures against women. And we sit in our confortable houses, ride our confortable cars, and are so blindly unaware of the suffering of others, nor do we want to be bothered. That is what breaks my heart. Chris, are there any organizations that you know of that help in any way? Is there anything I could do? Is there any way to really adopt some of these children, or help families? I would like to get involved.
Little Bee will always live in my heart.
I would like to hear what Nigerian refugees have to say. Lacking that can we have reactions from South Africa. I can imagine writing in a male voice and even in writting in the voices of historical figures in my culture. Diaries and other written material could inform my voice. However short of hearing what the refugees say in their own communities, I doubt that I would credit my projection into their space. Another thought for all you mothers out there. Would anyone of us have taken our child to the Beach?
What happened to the couple who took in the 4 refugees immediately after they left the detention camp? I kept thinking they risked themselves to help these women and when one committed suicide the farmer and his wife would probably be arrested for helping them. It seemed that no good deed goes unpunished. Yet, there was no consequence to Sarah, (who is morally flawed), for helping Little Bee. She was even permitted to leave the county with her.
A haunting read – certainly not one to be forgotten. It will take awhile for the lessons of this novel to sink in and the cold, tight cord around my heart to ease a bit. Do not believe that it will ever quite thaw! The world is harsh and the realities of that harshness stand out even in the various yellow sunshine washes evoked during the telling of this novel. Believe that I like “The Other Hand” title best- “Little Bee” teases one into believing that their might be a warm outcome….”God’s in his heaven and all’s right in the world”. “Of Mice and Men” “East of Eden” – “Little Bee” – all thought provoking and destined to remain classics. Now off to find a copy of “Incendiary”. Sandi
Hello Chris, our book club will be discussing your wonderful book “Little Bee”, this evening, so far the word on the street is everyone enjoyed it. I felt it was a very powerful story, it really opens ones eyes to the many tragic things that go on in this world. I look forward to the movie. I also see by your blog that you are a cyclist. Our book club is actually a “Biker Book Club”. We are all cyclists that love to read as well. Thanks again for creating such a great read. Happy writing and pedaling!-Kim
Chris–A truly profound read. And many thanks for a website with so much to offer the curious reader. Many questions abound, however I’ll refrain from all but this one: So… if Little Bee is deported home to her native country, why is there a military police unit stationed to watch her (and Sarah’s) movement for over two weeks and ultimately chase her down? This, I don’t understand. Thank you for an illuminating story. -karen
One member of our book group noted that, the last word in the novel – “drowned” – and Little Bee always thinking of how she would kill herself if the men came – seem to indicate that she committed suicide. Did she?
We were all moved by your work and did talk about what each of us could do to alleviate even a particle of the heartache and suffering we see.
I loved “Little Bee”, I finished it on the plane. I was wondering, is there a reason on why you used hanging in your novel twice? Once with Andrew and again with the girl at the detention center? What was the connection for the hanging? Did you use it as a metaphor? Also I wanted to know when you used the phrase “A dog must be a dog and a wolf must be a wolf” what were you referring too? Overall, it was an amazing novel. I recommended, “Little Bee” to so many of my friends. I hope we can see a movie as well!
Have stayed up past midnight to finish the second half of ‘the other hand’ in one go. Just wanted to say thanks for such a powerful and gripping novel. You got the voices spot on – every character memorable, every scene gripping – and maybe the end is just right too, because this refugee problem goes on and on, year in year out, some endings better, some worse and no way of knowing which. I think our private powerlessness comes over pretty strongly too – how come the government simply refuses to find the will to stop this abuse of asylum seekers? So, a many layered story and much to ponder. Thanks again.
I’ve just finished The Other Hand. Great work. Very gripping, thrillerishly surprising, moving, informative, challenging. I really hope it will make a difference to the way some people who know Richmond Park imagine people who don’t (and some who do)!
I volunteer with refugees locally (www.hafan.org), also help some of them get their writing published (www.lulu.com/hafan). At present I’m trying to convert this activist activity into research to generate income for the university where I work (www.modernlanguagesatswansea.wordpress.com). Your novel will make a great case study to investigate how representations of refugees travel across cultural borders. It’s a very, very British book, but clearly it is travelling successfully. I see it’s out in French, coming out in German – any other translations? (As well as the translation into American – I’ve even ordered that Little Bee to check what changed beyond the title.) What’s your experience working with translators and foreign editors? Not least: how is it going down in Nigeria, elsewhere in Africa?
Best of luck with the next
Hi Tom, thank you, & my respect to you for your volunteer work. In answer to your question, I’m lucky to have some excellent foreign editors. I don’t think I’ve had a bad experience with them so far. The publishing industry is very volatile, so from time-to-time one of the publishers will go out of business suddenly, which can be a problem. But in terms of their engagement and enthusiasm for publishing foreign novels, I’ve generally been very impressed. As you say, my stories are really about London & I don’t set out to write them for an international audience. I think there are plenty of readers around the world who are interested in perspectives from elsewhere, so I just write in the way that comes naturally to me & hope that people will find it interesting. In answer to your second question, as far as I know the only place on the African continent where my books are sold in any number is South Africa. I don’t have much feedback from Nigeria (or from West Africa in general), although I do have a lot of feedback from Nigerian diaspora readers in UK, US and Canada. I have a full spectrum of feedback from readers in that community, ranging from very appreciative to very angry – which is the same range of responses I get from most reading communities, I guess.
Hi Chris. What a great book! Funnily enough I came across it almost by accident while on holiday at a chess tournament in the Cap d’Agde in France. Having suddenly realised I had forgotten to bring some reading material with me I nipped down to the local media shop and found they had a small English section. Most of the books available consisted of spy thrillers or “chick-lit” (sadly not my genre). In amongst the lot, though was “The Other Hand” and its rather intriguing back sleeve summary. (Congrats to your editor on that one – it hooked me!) So I left the shop with your book and the latest Ben Elton. I read Elton first and found it a bit superficial but entertaining, and then proceeded to “The Other Hand.” What can I say but that if I were to write a book (one day I hope to) I’d want to write one like this! It really captured the way we feel about the plight of asylum-seekers. Even the most tolerant amongst us just feel powerless to help them. I guess we’re all standing on the edge of a grave watching a small child screaming for his dead daddy. (I feel that this scene symbolises it all) It’s painful to know such horrors exist and we freeze before our own impotence to act. I’m left asking myself if I would cut off a finger to save a life. The truth? I haven’t a clue. There was so much to the character of Little Bee, more than her status as an asylum seeker, such wisdom and understanding of the world. As an optimist, I choose a happy ending, the one I want for all asylum-seekers. So thanks for the great read. I’ll be ordering a copy of Incendiary soon. On a final note, I found it a weird coincidence that both books I bought that day had references to U2 in them. It’s a small world, pity we can’t share it out a bit better.
Thank you Shona.
Lovely, lovely writing throughout the novel. Wish the ending wasn’t so undone, ambiguous, up for interpretation with very distinct and different possibilities. Again–if Sarah protected the information she was collected, it’s a very different ending for them all (and, as a journalist once burned, it would be CRAZY of her not to have). If she didn’t, she and LB are fried.
Trying to carry the plot lines through . . . Little Bee is, minimally, off to prison and let’s hope that Sarah has a cell phone, makes a call to the embassy, and was smart enough to photocopy her husband’s research and leave it with another journalist (in case anything happened to her) and email her collected stories in progress to this same source, so she and her son have a chance of survival and of freeing Little Bee.
Let’s also hope against all hope that Andrew is out of the picture.
Realism is great, but this ending needed “just” a little more. To some extent, it’s a cope out leaving a readership hanging, left to fill in so much themselves when there haven’t been enough clues to solve the puzzle entirely. It’s a like a carpenter who doesn’t complete a job, leaving you to finish something that he could have done, assuming you could, even without his tools [enough information].
Thanks Betsy. I like the image of me as a workshy carpenter, wandering off the job before it was finished. I hope it wasn’t something important…
I just finished “Little Bee” and I thank you. We often take for granted the blessings of being born in a safe country to parents who will not be yanked away from us. I hope you write a joyful, grateful book next for your own sake and mine. I much enjoyed your presence and talk at the recent Literary Sojourn in Steamboat. Thank you for joining hearts with us.
Thank you Deb – I very much enjoyed Steamboat Springs – one of the best literary festivals in the world.
Thank you for the reply Chris: having your own words and not merely assumptions and abstract interpretations will help enormously in my study of the text. I think that your ultimate goal, to write yourself out of the picture entirely, is surely the best means by which to explore questions of ethics; it must allow your writing to go forth in directions you perhaps never envisioned when beginning any given novel. I must finally add that, for me anyway, your writing is indeed socially useful and most certainly provides a means of looking at, although it may sound simplistic, the contemporary human condition in a truly beautiful way. Good luck with your future writing and thank you again.
All the best,
Hi Chris, I’m currently forming a research essay for my fourth year of University and have been thinking a lot about the politics of representation in regards to your wonderful book. There is always the temptation with (post) colonial literature, or indeed literature which deals with contemporary concerns regarding immigration etc, to assume that an effective or useful book (in terms of studying experience) requires an author to be truly representative of a collective’s or group’s own experience. I find that the dichotomy in the narration of the novel, and the lack of omniscience, allows for a shift from the sort of grand narratives of earlier literature to localised narratives, which in a sense allows for a deeper, more meaningful, and generally more emotional connection with the characters and their individual experiences. I therefore see Little Bee at once as an individual character with a specifically localised experience but simultaneously she seems to symbolise, alongside Sarah, a very general human experience of compassion and care for one’s fellow man or woman. I wondered how representational you find Little Bee of refugees, or indeed how representational Sarah is of the majority of us living in our Western bubble? I think one can always find meanings in literature which the author him/herself never intended, but I wondered whether you were aware that the conversations your characters have which centre around “saving the world” seem to genuinely echo the debates surrounding the artist and his or her obligation to represent the truth within their art? Of course it must have been problematic to write at times from the perspective of a sixteen year old Nigerian girl, but do you feel that your own background in any way hinders the reflection of the refugee’s experience? Or do you think that specifically because you are so distant to Little Bee in terms of age, culture, gender, experience etc that you are able to in some ways universalise the issues addressed, and in turn allow the book to be about humanity and love as opposed to any objective “truth” about immigration?
I must end in saying it is a truly beautiful piece of writing, which I think contains so much more than even you could have intended.
Sophie Gackowski (University of Dundee)
Hi Sophie, thank you for studying my book & for your kind words. To your questions: first, I don’t tend to think of my characters as representing groups. Instead I look at how useful they’re going to be in allowing me to explore a particular moral question. In the case of that novel, the question is “How much of our comfortable lives should we give up in order to help those whose lives are much harder?” It’s the eternal question about charity, I suppose. Sarah is an interesting individual because, being involved in the event from which Little Bee is fleeing, she isn’t a simple giver of charity. Little Bee is interesting because, being resourceful & having something to contribute to Sarah in return, she isn’t a simple recipient of charity. By using characters with one foot outside their nominal social group, I can explore a moral question in a more interesting way & come at it from unexpected angles. To your second question about authorial intent and social obligation, I must admit I can no longer separate what I originally intended from how I now interpret the book. It’s become blurred in my memory. When I start to write, I have a theme that I’m curious to explore, plus a moral question I’d like to frame in a way that hold my interest, and hopefully the reader’s. I’m sure that some of my effects are intentional and some are unintended or arise from the reader’s interpretation. I do have a belief that as an artist I can represent something – probably not “truth”, but maybe a kind of energetic way of looking at the way we live – that ought to be socially useful. To your last question about my own background versus my characters’ profiles: as I’ve mentioned earlier, I don’t really see my characters as being representative of groups. I think they are tentatively anchored in real histories, but only tentatively. I tend to see them as abstracted artistic entities that I can use to produce real feelings in the reader. It’s those feelings that are “true”, not the characters that give rise to them, and certainly not the writer’s identification with those characters. As a writer, therefore, I research my stories very thoroughly but I don’t worry about the overlap – or lack thereof – between my experience and the imagined experience of my protagonists. In my new novel, for example, I’m working with four separate narrators with very different backgrounds, and it is often in the interface between those narrators that the strongest feelings arise. I think my ultimate goal is to write my own self out of the picture entirely.
Just finished Little Bee and found it hard to put down. Looking forward to the film!
Thank you Shannon – I’m looking forward to the film too.
Thank you for writing this moving and excellent story. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed it. I’ll be discussing it with my book group tomorrow evening at **Boswell Books**, which I was happy to read you have a connection with that charming book shop.
Hi Emily – thank you! Hope book group goes well. Boswell Books is one of my all-time favourite book stores. I had a great visit in Milwaukee – everyone was so friendly. (Here is a video I made there last year). Is Daniel Goldin still running the show there? Please say hi from me!
I finished “The Other Hand” about an hour ago and I felt truly sad to finish it. It is the first book in a long time that I have read in one day so thank you for that.
I also wanted to give a thumbs up for your nod to Maurice Sendack in the nursery scene where Charlie melts down over his lost father. I really enjoyed the parallel I drew in my mind between Sendack’s “Max” the costumed adventurer who may or may not be living in a fantasty world and the Batman costume of Charlie.
a new fan
Thank you Euan. I agree with you about Sendack. Max is an incredible character. And if possible, I like Mickey in ‘In The Night Kitchen’ even more.
Chris, is there any way you could give me your thoughts on what happened to little Bee in the end?
Last time I was in Berlin I visited Checkpoint Charlie and it was intresting to read everything and see everything at The escape museum. Next time Im also going to visit Sachenhausen, which is outside Berlin and is an old concentration camp aswell as the russians used it after WW2 for their prisoners.
I came across your book by accident really and so glad I did. What an excellent read! I know there has been an American film version entitled “Little Bee”. Any plans in the pipeline for a film adaptation, here in the UK?
Hi Adele – thank you – yes, there is a film version in the pipeline, which will be called ‘Little Bee’. It’s a joint project between BBC Films and a US production company, and it will be the one-and-only film adaptation. Nicole Kidman is set to play Sarah, Shawn Slovo is writing the screenplay, and that’s all I know at this moment. I’m really looking forward to it.
I recommended Little Bee for our November Book Club meeting. I’m certain it will be an interesting and heated discussion. So many layers. Little Bee will remain with all who read this book for many years to come. Having a son who, when 4 or so, spent months as Robin Hood made me adore Charlie. Thank you for writing one of the great books of our time.
I finished Little Bee about ten minutes ago and RAN to my computer to find your website!!! Thank you Chris Cleave, for opening my eyes to this buried secret, and for giving me a reason to be thankful today and every day for my freedom and my voice!!
Last night my book discussion group discussed Little Bee. Of course we were all debating what exactly happens at the end, and from the answers on the Q&A above I understand that it was left intentionally vague — we can all decide what the ending will be.
It was interesting to see what some members of the group picked up on that others did not because so much detail was mixed in with the tragedy it was hard to focus on everything. One person distinctly remembered the men on the beach drinking from a bottle and Sarah noticing what appeared to be an eye floating in that bottle. A few people remembered this detail when it was brought up. What was in the bottle? And why put the bottle in the narrative? Was it one more level of horror added to what was becoming a horrific situation?
Just finished–I was dazzled by the way Chris Cleave could write himself into Sarah, a caring, thoughtful, inspirational WOMAN. Chris- you truly connected in your presentation of this lovely, sensitive lady. Little Bee went off the mark several times-but I forgive you.
Was thinking the exact same thing… become more mindful? grateful? active?
What to I do with this knowledge? Isn’t it a sin to just go on with my life without acting on what I know now? I can’t believe others are just willing to chalk it up to a good read and go on to the next book. I wish I had never read it.
Chris – I just finished your book and was floored by the ending… Both hopeful, as Little Bee has hope for Charlie’s future (and us all) and tragic, as she has given her life for the child and knows that she faces the impending doom of “the men” that has terrified her throughout the story. The ending is even more tragic and even ironic, as throughout the book Little Bee always plans out her suicide in any situation and ultimately doesn’t take that option (swim out to sea, as the soldier does after the demise of Kindness). I wanted a happy ending :(, but thank you for a beautiful and bittersweet ending. I’m still sad/happy and will be for a long time.
Re: men and women. I find Andrew’s choice very male and Sarah’s choice very maternal. I had no idea how powerful (meaning absolute) the urge to throw myself in front of a train/tiger/etc. would be until I too became a mother. It isn’t a choice – it’s an instinct. My apologies to all the men out there – I’m not slamming you, it’s just an observation (and I’m not the only one)…
The Maternal Brain; January 2006; Scientific American Magazine; by Craig Howard Kinsley and Kelly G. Lambert; 8 Page(s)
“Mothers are made, not born. Virtually all female mammals, from rats to monkeys to humans, undergo fundamental behavioral changes during pregnancy and motherhood. What was once a largely self-directed organism devoted to its own needs and survival becomes one focused on the care and well-being of its offspring. Although scientists have long observed and marveled at this transition, only now are they beginning to understand what causes it. New research indicates that the dramatic hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy, birth and lactation may remodel the female brain, increasing the size of neurons in some regions and producing structural changes in others.
Some of these sites are involved in regulating maternal behaviors such as building nests, grooming young and protecting them from predators. Other affected regions, though, control memory, learning, and responses to fear and stress. Recent experiments have shown that mother rats outperform virgins in navigating mazes and capturing prey. In addition to motivating females toward caring for their offspring, the hormone-induced brain changes may enhance a mother rat’s foraging abilities, giving her pups a better chance of survival. What is more, the cognitive benefits appear to be long-lasting, persisting until the mother rats enter old age.”
I just finished listening to the CD–I loved it too–the story and the acting. The voices really made it come alive for me; this was a great listen. Will be recommending it to my bookclub too, but I have a funny feeling, there will be others who will also recommend it! As for the ending, I really want something good for Little Bee, and being an optimist, will go with that approach to it. If I use that reasoning, then I can hope for a sequel!!
The ending is so hard…Little Bee dies deliberately holding a beautiful vision and also prepared with a premonition (the dream of her sister returning from the ocean with her Hawaiian print shirt)…does she die as hard as her sister did? is it an “automatic” death as her sister suffered, at the end not even consciously knowing what was happening? Did the soldiers give her a break? And did her sister retain her beautiful vision to the end ( she seems to have for a while but then gave way to the automatic sounds later echoed by Andrew while dying in the presence of Little Bee? Unbelievably touching and disturbing work of art.
I just finished reading your novel which I really loved. Has “the other hand” been translated in other languages? I usally share books I like with my mother but she reads in Italian only…
Keep on writing, I hope to read more from you.
Hi Raffaella, thank you! And yes, there is an Italian translation coming very soon. All best wishes, Chris
I started reading your book, and did not want to stop until I had finished. My emotions were brought to the surface on so many levels; the sadness; anger over Bee’s horrific suffering as an innocent girl who fled from violence and injustice only to find more of it in her escape. The story makes me very grateful for the life I am able to live in a free society; but also saddens me that persons more fortunate than others treat one another so inhumanly. Thank you for bringing this situation into print so we must all realize these things actually go on and not close our eyes to it.
thank you for a wonderful book, however, it left me wanting – for more.
I couldn’t put “Little Bee” down and finished it in less time than I’ve read any other book. Your writing style, the use of mystery, what is unspoken, pushed me further and further into the story. Thank you for this compelling work of truth, not “fiction”.
Many years ago while at collage I met Africans from various countries, they were free and there to study but missed home very much and were glad to meet kindred spirits who took time to speak and pray for them, specially when they had the impression of Britain as a land where people who did not care. Thank you for caring and writing this book and showing us ourselves and giving us an insight into the plight of these souls who are intrinsically no different from ourselves. How superior we are if we can close our eyes or ears to our brothers and sister, fathers and mothers.
Chris, I was captivated by your book Little Bee and read it through the night on a flight from JFK to Berlin. Most powerful was the ending. You left me hanging, forcing me to decide and take into account so many emotional and moral poionts you raised in the story to get closure. But does one ever have closure in life? One reader, who posted, questioned whether Lawrence made Little Bee call the police when Charlie is lost to push her to sacrifice herself and save him. I think she may be right as I found him far from easy to like. He, more than anyone, had his own particuar modus operande professionally and personally, which was ironically dictated by the system you expose. This is most unfortunate for the two female heroines. As I read the book, I could not help thinking about Helen Oyeyemi, the young British authoress, who was born in Nigeria and wrote The Icarus Girl. Little Bee and her discussions with her sister reminded me very much of Helen’s protagonist living with geister. I wonder how she made it to Britain? If you do not know her, try to meet her. You would have so much to talk about. And, if you should ever come to Berlin, please let me know. I know several people in book groups and am going to try to get one of the groups to read your book and join. Thank you for a soulful provoking read. Looking forward to more., Best, Linda
just to say to you: thanks for this beautiful novel!
You have inspired and touched me a lot!
Kind regards, Filip
I really enjoyed your book Little Bee. My friend gave it to me. We disagree on the ending. I think it is hopeful, she thinks the soldiers kill Little Bee. Who is right or are we both right in our own opinions????????
Thank you in advance.
Thanks, Chris, for very thought provoking book! Little Bee was my book club’s selection and certainly will create a lively discussion when we meet on 8/22/10. I am looking forward to thoughts regarding the ending — was it tragic or hopeful? My next read will be Incendiary.
Thank you so much for writing Little Bee/The Other Hand. It is one of the more gripping and thought provoking books I have ever read. I enjoyed it on so many levels. I literally cannot wait to get my hands on Incendiary!
Thanks for this wonderful book.
Thank-you Mr. Cleave for your brilliant novel, Little Bee.
It was the first novel that I did not put down the minuite it got tough to read. I usually turn away from anything that reflects the darkness of this world to a point that disturbs my sensibilities, however, as I read Little Bee I realized that putting this book down would not only be irresponsible of me but would also be a lost opportunity for me to grow in compassion towards fellow human beings as well as an opportunity to stop my ‘fleeing’ from ignorance when the reality of this world is difficult to comprehend.
I happened to chance upon ‘The Other Hand’ at the old Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, where – due to a transition to a newer and more flashy airport – the existing ‘bookshop’ consisted entirely of 3 shelves, one holding books on Indian travel and tourism, one on Indian current events, and one holding a few novels that an airplane-averse traveler could quickly latch onto. I’m so glad your book was there, and that I chose to pick it up. Although having been fortunate enough to never have dealt with the atrocities witnessed by Little Bee, I feel I can, as a citizen of the developing world, understand a little about existing in another world that might not always be welcoming of outsiders. As a teenager, I interned at a particular branch of UNHCR and saw how desperate, how hopeful, how defeated, how hard life can be for those who aren’t given the prized paper awarding ‘officially refugee status’, even if they went through hell and came out the other side. Now I am doing a PhD looking at how ‘the Other’ in society is virtually a non-entity for many national governments, and I hope one day to make a difference for those who have no voice. Thank you for giving the Little Bees of this world a voice.
It’s just after sunset in west Texas. I stand on my front porch looking into the pink sky, stunned into silence after finishing Little Bee. Thank you for this remarkable story, for your insight into human nature, for your elucidation of the Nigerian Oil conflict and the treatment of detainees, for the gift of these two women whom I will never forget, and for the compelling way you have shown us that this world is now one big village and that as we are so globally related, so, too, we must be morally related.
It is July 9th, 2010. I just finished reading “Little Bee” in the mid-morning sun on my deep front porch, safe from nearly all the world’s horrors, living securely & ashamedly in a small little town in the US Midwest. Your people’s lives, spilled out in a mere 267 pages, held me captive as not only a reader, but as a negligent human being, as well. I have distanced myself from the asylum-seekers throughout my life: first, growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, when the refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and North and South Viet Nam settled in large numbers in my wealthy hometown during the 1970s; and now, raising my children in Owatonna, Minnesota, where many locals complain about the large number of Somalian refugees who have come here to live. I’ve always believed I’m compassionate and tolerant—maybe I am. But today I realized my intercultural relations have been shallow and an attempt to feel better about myself through brief, superficial exchanges. I can do much more. I can listen to the multitude of Somalian women tell me, “the-men-came-and-they…” And I can share stories about our universal woman-knowledge of what it means to be a mother, and, as such, we all love our children with our teeth bared. I will go beyond the hand offered in greeting; I will strive to embrace these survivors in both arms with deepened compassion. I will more than tolerant of our differences; I will seek to discover our commonalities and understand if, indeed, we are different. I will watch silently today for all the possibilities to put these words into action, and tomorrow, on my 47th birthday, I will begin. Thank you, Chris, for the opportunity to be a human being in a not-so-small world!
Regarding Little Bee. Wonderfully written except . . .why did you have Little Bee, who spoke so well, make SO MANY pronoun errors? For example, “me and my sister. . .” did such and such. The poor pronoun usage was completely out of character. No literary license here. Please explain as it was the one negative in an otherwise wonderful novel.
Sad and funny. And as others have mentioned more eloquently, also informative. I read it in five or six hours. I skimmed a few descriptive paragraphs because I wanted to get to the end… I hope that is a compliment. What about Yevette, no one mentioned her. I guess she found her place.
I live in Texas. Probably you couldn’t do it because it wouldn’t be the same twice, but I wish someone would write a non-partisan book humanizing the immigration problems we have over here.
Please please answer something for me….why didn’t Little Bee employ of one her industrious ideas for killing herself should “the men” come for her, when they finally did. is it because of a transformation she underwent from being a part of Charlie (Batman’s) life? I am haunted by the absolute truth and beauty of your book. as a writer, I am completely envious and in awe of your ability to dig deep and find words for those things that live within us without definition.
I’ve just finished reading Little Bee, I have to say it is one of the best books I have read, and I have read a few. You are a wonderful writer with a gift
of the knowledge of the human spirit and know how to communicate it through your words. I find your book uplifting, joyful because it isn’t just a silly
book about somebody sleeping around or dealing in the silly things of life. Your depiction of life has some of the elements that we are all afraid to face,
that is what a true writer writes for to broaden the reader and make them think and act!!! Way to go.
I’ve just written a letter to you. But I put it on my blog so others could see how I felt about Little Bee. You can find it here: http://www.bellasbookshelves.com/?p=927. My review of the book will follow as soon as I’ve finished it, which I hope to do today.
For now, until you read the letter: THANK YOU for being you.
Little Bee..I don’t even have the words to describe what it moved inside of me. I read this on a flight and sobbed next to strangers. At certain times I had to put the book down and will myself to go on. I cannot stop thinking about it. I reread the end about 10 times. I need to know what happens to Little Bee, and Sarah. And I loved both of them. And I sympathized for both of them. I have to go out and buy copies for my friends because I do not want to lend mine out.
I understand leaving the ending ambiguous so readers can decide the fate of the characters, but the book reviews said “heartwarming” and the ending just left me feeling “hopeless” The world scares me. And it’s unfair. I want to know that Little Bee got to escape the horror that was inside her.
I absolutely agree with the comment, “Never has a male author so thoroughly and believably portrayed women”. I was quite stunned by the depth to which you achieved that.
I have been deeply moved by The Other Hand and I fully support your motivations and ethics for your writing.
“The typo in that opening quotation is a nice example of a bureaucracy that is pretending to care, but not pretending very hard.” Yes, yes, yes. It is so utterly depressing.
I can’t believe you mentioned Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” in this interview. I’m halfway into “Little Bee,” and I kept thinking to myself, I bet this guy would like Cormac McCarthy.
Thank God you do, because he’s my favorite author and “The Road” is my favorite book.
You’re a genius of a writer.
Dear Chris, Your book was placed on my bed by my daughter. Some of my all time favorite books have arrived that way. I am very grateful to her and I thank you. Your talent is amazing on so many levels: Never has a male author so thoroughly and believably portrayed women. The depth of the character’s psychological struggles, depression, vulnerabilities, fears could not have been more vivid. I wished that Bee was not fictional; that a refugee could survive and tell the sad story. It was reminiscent of Hemingway. As a US citizen I had not heard of the Nigerian Oil conflict.
Chris – just found one of your Guardian articles where you wonder if your old classmates are still sitting in little chairs doing cutting and sticking!
I always thought you would set the literary world on fire – I can still remember the stories you wrote in Mr Brown’s class!!!!! Far too long ago now for comfort.
Have copy of Little Bee on order ……
Hello Mr Cleave,
Are there no women writers at all, that you admire?
Hi Madeleine – yes, many. Details here
I LOVED this book. I have recommended to everyone I know. I just have one question. I would would love to have a review from a Nigerian publication/writer. Was this attempted? That would definitely add a level of legitimacy to your portrayal of Little Bee.
I just finished reading “Little Bee” and I want MORE. There has to be a sequel because I just have to know what happens to Little Bee and Charlie and Sarah. I understand inherently that Sarah will write Andrews’ book but what will become of the characters and the bonds thay have created? I know Sarah will not just let Little Bee go. The book was amazing…your style, the development of the characters and the depths of their souls. It was a book so deeply moving to me, my heart was on the verge of breaking evrytime I read passages from it. Thank you for creating such a timely and soul-searching novel.
I just finished Little Bee…enjoyed the book, but I don’t see what the choice was that the two women had to make? That seems to be something everyone is stating in reviews.
Please help clear this up.
Funny how we all finish the book but can’t let go. This website is a brilliant way to stay with the characters a little longer. Whilst the book is full of ironies, the saddest of them for me was when the immigration officer told Little Bee that it didn’t matter how well she talked, she couldn’t stay because she was a drain on resources. This is set against the backdrop of Little Bee’s lifestory of (possibly British) companies draining the resources from Nigeria and evicting Little Bee and her family from the place where they belonged. Detention centres are the visible carsinoma of the underlying malignancy. As concerned citizens we need to start thinking about our effect elsewhere in the world.
I, like the others here have just finished your book called “Little Bee”. I saw an excerpt on the Borders Book site and enjoyed it. I then went and bought the book that very night. I read it the following day. I enjoyed the book and the colorful characters of Little Bee and Charlie. I’d like to believe that Little Bee was finally at home in her own homeland at the end. I can not believe that she went through all the turmoil to end up dead. I think that small little quip about the father who killed himself in order to save his son from being deported gave me the hope that Little Bee has not only survived, but is thriving in the big city. She has nowhere else to go and no family left, where else is she to go? No the government will not blatantly kill her, Sarah has gathered too much information that she can use to pressure the government. They could kill Little Bee, but she would become a martyr for Sarah’s cause. I like the implication you insinuated about the UK government and its policies. Unfortunately, the US is just as bad, if not worse. I think you should continue to use your books to expose people to the plights of the supressed humans in this world. Keep up the good work, I look forward to your next book! I am looking into your other book at this time. I will be sure to pass “Little Bee” around.
Just finished reading The Other Hand. Exceptional, very funny, frightening and thought-provoking. Read most of it on a beach in the Algarve and it was responsible for ensuring that I never strayed too far from the crowds! I would strongly recommend it.
i have read your book, quite by chance. I am going to try and get as many people to read it as possible; maybe then they might understand somethings that few people seem to. The best book I have read in many years, and one of the few that I will read again, already knowing that I have read it once. THAT is very rare. Thank you.
Wow – this book has not just affected me, it is truly a part of me. 2 years ago I lived in the Niger Delta exactly in the place where many of these little oil wars have taken place. We were there because my husband was researching the impact of the oil companies on local communites. Since then our whole life has been dedicated to fighting for the rights of children in the Niger Delta, specifically Akwa Ibom State and Rivers State, and we have set up a charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria, that advocates for the rights of these children as well as providing for their basic needs.
This book touched me so deeply as for the past two years I have managed to carry out our work in a rather a matter of fact way, without letting myself crumble under the sheer weight of the situation that we are trying to alleviate; but reading The Other Hand allowed me to grieve, just a little, and feel….just enough to help me to regain my initial passion and resolve. It helped me to relive my personal friendship with many of the children, to continue to fight for them, to learn from them, and to work with the Nigerian government to make things better for them.
Strangely also, my one true moment of fear, of something being “not quite right” in Nigeria occurred on a beach, called Ibeno beach. The next day the militants stormed the beach , breaking into a compound, killing several people.
The Other Hand -Very close to the bone, or more aptly close to the heart…..and absolutely incredible.
Great done and keep posted. Looking forward to reading more from you.
We just discussed “Little Bee” at book club last night and everyone really enjoyed it. However, we everyone had a different idea about what the last two pages meant. Some were very hopeful and thought that Little Bee would go on to become a citizen with Sarah looking after her now etc.. Others thought that the fact that she told Charlie her real name, got him to take off his batman costume and then laughed and laughed until the sound of the sea was drowned, meant that she was killed in the end. Can you shed some light for us on the end of the story?
Chris – Great book Well structured, intense, emotional, humorous, believable
But…(!.. sorry) Initially I was disappointed with the ending.
The immediate future for Little Bee is realistically not good (imprisoned etc .. certainly unlikely to be in allowed back to England). Of course I would like to think positively about her future and I have ! .. but realistically I’m not sure.
I think you were trying to say that the real story is the bigger picture not just the story of Little Bee.
As Sarah had said . . just 1 story is weak, no matter how compelling. To change a system / culture / government needs hundreds of similar stories told in the right way and to the right people. This is the hope you give us with what Sarah was setting out to do.
And Charlie and the Nigerian kids playing together on the Beach …t A glimpse of a possible brighter future
Hi Chris. Thank-you for such a wonderful, wonderful book. It’s such a treat to pull a book from the library shelf, know nothing about it and be treated to 350+ pages of magic.
It’s almost 01:00 and I have just broken the spell cast by “The Other Hand” as with “Incendiary” which was read in one night I found myself almost living and crying with the characters conjoured from concepts and words. Reading the last page was in itself sad more like saying farewell to brave friends. Thank you
hi chris, can’t speak out loud just yet, don’t want to break the spell. heavy heart, tears for those i don’t know, appreciation for all i have. will urge others to read. thank you for a sleepless night! I mean it. margot.
Excellent, thought provoking book.
It makes me wonder what happens to the people who do get deported, did you do any research into this?
Started reading in hospital and hardly looked up until I finished it just now back at home. I already adore you Chris for the Grauniad column but I am utterly awed by what you have achieved here….. I promise to act on this; not just think about it.
Please write more soon Chris, I have devoured both books and I have no purpose! x
Have just finished your book and by coincidence heard you being interviewed on Ryan Tubridy’s show this morning!
As a child i spent time living and for a short time being educated in Zambia.It was a strange experience to be the only white child in school!
Little Bee’s alienation from life in every country was so powerful and intense that i am afraid Batman should never have taken his costume off.
Absolutely un-put-down-able read. I laughed and cried in equal measure. You have taught me and touched me with your words and urged me to do something to help
Thank you Chris
When I heard that Kafka had worked in Immigration “The Trial” etc all fell into place. The huge amount of work and money wasted by Westminster governments on giving a relative handful of people a hard time baffles me yet; and none of the excuses for it make any real sense.
I had to read ‘The other hand’ anyway once I had an idea what it was about because I grew up in W.A., mainly Nigeria, during the 1950s and 1960s – a third of my year at school died in the Biafran war on both sides (or neither) and the bits of stories I heard from the survivors make this book all too real. But there’s also the other stories – such the fleeing Ibo I know who was hidden and protected by a very prominent Yoruba and his people throughout that war – Little Bee’s best chance of survival would be one of those truly admirable people…
Hi Chris, my favourite bookstore in McMahons Pt Sydney recommended your book which I and about 20 friends and family have been reding over the last couple of months. I dont want to repeat the accolades which you deserve for this book. But honestly it is the best book I think I have ever read. Can you give us a hint – are you writing about a character who travelled with Little Bee after the leaving Nigeria?
Thank you for your book and trusting the intelligence of your readers, Melissa
Thank you for an amazing read. I love the unpredictable yet predictable story line. I commute in and out of London everyday and reserve that as my reading time. I had to carve out time after that commute as I couldn’t wait until the next day or my evening commute as the trains would stop when I wasn’t done reading! It’s hard to find books that make you cry and laugh while at the same time teach you about what’s happening in the world – the good and the bad. Thank you for writing for others to enjoy.
I might have posted my comment on the wrong page so I’ll put it here as well. It was your comment on the use of sanitary towels in detention centres. I met several women in prison who went on to detention centres oe a cheerful Jamaican who was just like the one in your book. I visited an Indian woman I met when she went to Yarlswood before being sent home. She told me she was collecting as many sanitary towels as she could before she returned to India as they were better than she herself was able to buy there. She did get them there! She also told me that detainees often used them to hide things in. I met a lot of women like little Bee in prison. They made up the vast majority of inmates. They al were pushing to get to detention centres (it takes ages from prison) as life is in comparison better there
Thak you for this amazing book ! What a great humour, sensitivity, power of detail ! Words are just not enough to describe how I feel about this book and about the hand who wrote it.
I have read The Other Hand this summer and recommended it to everyone including making it my book club choice this month.
A powerful and thought provoking read, I hope that I would be strong enough to do the same in the same situation, but pray I never would be.
To Chris:I’m AMAZED that no one has mentioned Anne Flosnik and her amazing performance in the audio version of Little Bee. So touching, so moving, so heartwarming, so powerful. Once I bridged the “suspend disbelief” gap regarding her amazing ability to express herself in English, the official language of her country, I was transported into the twists and turns and wonderful humanity of Little Bee and the other characters. The horrific scenes were very real and awful, and the scene where she saw the family reflecting the Human Race with the beautiful child moved me deeply.
To all: If you haven’t heard the audio version, get it and listen. I pray that this book becomes a powerful force to stimulate all of us to create a way of dealing with “illegals” in a way that recognizes that THERE IS NO THEM; THERE’S ONLY US.
No book has moved me as much as “Little Bee” in many, many years. It is a subject I’ve heard about on news shows, but this brings the reader back to the absolute nub of the dilemma — that these are human beings who have committed no crime and “there, but for the grace of God . . .” I also loved and laughed and cried the parts with Charlie — excuse me, Batman — because as the mother of a son named Charlie and the grandmother of an almost four year old Sebastien, I know you’ve captured the innocence and wisdom of early childhood. Thank you so very much for this book.
I’ve just finished your book”the other hand”.
It reminds us , how much injustice is happening not only in other coutries, but also just in front of our own doorstep. It leaves the strong wish to do something about it immediately.
It leaves also a strong feeling of guilt, because we all know about the horrors all along, asylumseekers have to face in the european sythem.
I would strongly recommend this book to everybody. Is there a chance,it might get published in german language?
I have just devoured your book. It is an amazing read.
I also just took a practice Brirish Citizenship test and failed.
Dear Chris, I was recently on holiday on the quiet French Coast when I came across your excellent book…at first I could not decode whether Chris was male or female, such is your perfect interpretation of female thought! Anyhow, as all the above readers, I could not put it down – truly eye-opening, scary, just beautiful – your writing is marvellous.
Thanks for your book Chris! it provided me with many loud chuckles/tears on my train ride to and from work..never have I received so many stares from other passengers! I look forward to your next book.
Thank you so much for writing ‘The Other Hand’. I bought it at an airport because I wanted something to read during the journey.
I could not put it down any more! I really find it fantastically written. In the end I supposed Little Bee was going to be killed, but I was not too sad because she was so happy. So thank you. I love the way you did not finish the book with ‘and they lived happily ever after’ but with something more realistic.
just finished reading the other hand nd, having red the comments all that’s left for me to say is THANK YOU.
I’ve just been to Edinburgh and watched The State We’re In about Brian Haw’s 9 year protest. I bought The Other Hand to read on my journey. Yesterday, I spoke to a friend who is working in an Asylum Detention Centre in France and heard first hand her stories about the dehumanising processes she is witnessing everyday and about her despair of being in too low a position to change them – BUT she’s still trying to.
There’s something strangely congruent about all these experiences happening at once for me.
I am so pleased that there are two great pieces of work out there that do not allow us to be comfortable, do not allow us to be passive and inspire us to change and be human.
Thank you for this human novel. And thanks to Zia Trench and my friend as well – who through their work show us the horrors we create and permit and give us the opportunity through awareness to change.
Chris — Little Bee was the recent selection of our book club, and I just today finished. I must admit, I consumed it quickly. Your writing style is beyond compelling and your turn of phrase unique and enjoyable. I was delighted to learn of your website, as after I read a book, I tend to dig deeper. The above Q & A was insightful (thank you) and I always find it interesting how we readers sometimes misinterpret the writer’s actual intent, but still the impact works. You produced a masterful work, and it goes on my shelf of few books I plan to read again.
I just want add my thanks to the many above.
Thank-you so much
Few years ago my professor lent me your book, Incendiary, and it turns out to be one of my most favourite books. I’d searched for your other books, but didn’t get one. Now I knew why 🙂 Please write more novels, instead of every 3 years
A week ago, by chance, when my husband and I were in Dubai for a short transit back to Europe from Indonesia, I found your new book. I wish I could tell you how excited I was finding your new book. Thank you for sharing beautiful stories to us. You make me laugh and cry at the same time.
ps: mmmm I like ‘At The Other Hand’, but I love ‘Incendiary’ more 😉
Good to see you’re doing some research to fill in the ???
I am a german woman married to a nigerian man and my husband is from imo state in Nigeria, since two years we live in UK . I read a lot of books to improve my english and I chose ‘the other hand’ because of the cover picture and the title, it made me curious about the book. When I read it I felt being in the story, I laught and mostly cryed a lot, the book is really, really good. But there was one word I didn’t like, “Nazi german”, I think the time is long gone and we are not that bad anymore. My husband was in an assylum home in germany and it wasn’t like a prison, they could go out any time and our government gave them money to by food or clothes and they also get papers so they can work, but yes, if they find out their story is not true they will be sent back home. Despite what I have to criticize, it is a good story, worth to read and could be true.
enjoyed book,follow up would be good.
Wow, this is such an eye opening, interesting and thought provoking book. Totally entralling, I have not been able to put it down. This is not my normal type of read and I would not have chosen it had it not been for the back page. It got my attention and I am so glad that it did.
This is a brilliant story I wish it coud be heard by everyone, especially those who are too ignorant to acknowledge the other side to asylum seeking peoples stories.
I travel quite a lot, mainy to India, and I always return full of resentment to our own ‘spoilt’ culture, it is time people took notice of what is happening to people in the real world today.
Please hurry and write another story as awe inspiring as this, thanks Chris.
i bought “the other hand” because it was on sale (i live abroad and i am not British so whenever i go to London, there is always a Waterstone on my path and i can’t resist going in and buying lots of books) as part of a “buy 2 and get one free” campaign. this was the 3rd one and i chose it because it had great reviews and the topic was mysteriousand if i had known what it was about, i have to be honest and say i would not have bought it. not because i do not care about asylum seekers, on the contrary i read the news everyday…in fact, the only part i find a little unbelievable in the book is the idea that Sarah and Andrew went to Nigeria not knowing about the oil war (i mean they are journalists!) because i remember very well reading about it in the newspapers and boycotting Shell because of this.
i read the book in twice, train journey at the beginning of the weekend and train journey back. both nights i could go to sleep, i was so depressed. the book is amazing because it conveys so many realities to the point of refusing to make us happy with a “happy end”. it is brave because it does not turn anyone into a heroe even if Sarah comes out better than most. you were right to make her full of flaws because in a sense it tells us that you do not have to be a saint to do something brave and that we may have our selfish little lives, it is no excuse to at some point do something heroic. at the end of the book we are left with the same of helplessness as everyone else in the book with the question: how do you live with having tried your best and failed? can our faint voices be heard enough to change the fate of things?
as Sarah says, the sum of invidivual stories can become big enough to make a difference. in my country (France) there is an uproar against the law system that sues individuals who help illigal immigrants and regularly illigal immigrants jump out of the window and kill themselves when the police comes to arrest them. the police even comes to pick up their children at the school, upsetting the other children and the parents. so i hope that soon the tide changes and our governments start to treat asylum seekers with the respect they deserve.
your book was hard to read but i don’t regret that i read it and i will buy “incendiary”
as you may understand French, i thought you might be interested in a book that will be released in a few months from now, i do not know if it’s good but it’s about the (true) story of a little Rwandan girl whose family was massacred and who now lives in France. it is written as a novel (monologue form, a little i imagine like your own book)
I bought “The Other Hand” without knowing what it was about and was very shocked to meet Little Bee from Nigeria. As a Ghanaian who came to the UK over 30 years ago, it’s amazing how much I related to her thoughts about the West, especially what she would “tell the girls back home”. I read the book in two hours on the plane a few days ago and fully intend to re-read it as I am sure that, in my rush to get to the end, I missed a lot of little treasures that I will now discover.
I have known people who have been kept in detention centres for long periods of time – one was a case of missing identity and ended with an apology from the Home Secretary. I know how it can destroy confidence and can only imagine how it must feel to run away from a terrible situation looking to the west for shelter, only to find yourself a “prisoner” in a situation in which you have no idea how long your sentence will be.
It has been interesting reading the various emails from the readers and to see how willing we all are to condemn those in situations we can never really appreciate. Which is worse? Cheating on your husband or refusing to make a sacrifice to save another’s life? What makes a hero? Someone who despite cheating on her husband is willing to return to a country in which she had a terrible experience in order to support a friend?
One last note – what led you to choose “One” by U2 as the song that everyone knew and liked? I hadn’t realised that U2 were so popular in Nigeria or the rest of Africa, for that matter!!
Mr. Cleave, thanks for suggesting the book on child soldiers. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to have the courage to read it. As I’ve been reading “Little Bee” I was thinking that would be a good next book. Although I think I’ll read something light and frothy in between, maybe the Candace Bushnell book that’s also been on my shelf for a while. My son is in Africa for the summer, and I will definitely give him this book to read when he comes home. Thanks you.
‘the other hand’
Wow what a book, thank you for writing such a powerful and thought provoking book, humour and seriousness blend so well. The story is such a moving one that I could not put your book down, sadly I have finished it within 2 days a record for me.
I agree that this should be one book that is read as part of the national curriculum, I would also go further to say that the managers of authorities you wrote about UKBA, Police and the escorting officers should read this as part of their development that way a change could occur in the way we communicate with individuals and to realise that what we take for granted may be so so different for others.
I think your book should be compulsory reading for MPs and politicians in general. Here in Austria we are just witnessing another change for the worse in our asylum regulations and I feel truly ashamed of the callousness and cynicism of politicians defending those restrictions. Not only politicians. We see a frightening development towards open racism and right-wing extremism supported by media voices and the fact that a right- wing party with unveiled propaganda is sitting in our Parliament.
As I lack the courage to do something truly significant, I try to influence my students at school and teacher training college to at least examine opinions, stereotypes and prejudices. Your book will certainly find its way onto my reading lists. That’s at least something I can do. Thanks for having written it and giving me the opportunity to discuss the topic and showing my students a different approach.
Chris, I loved this book and have passed it on to one of my most favourite people in the world to read – my daughter. I have only told her that this book will make her cry – something she is not impressed about. However, as a 14 yr old she is hardly ever impressed with anything I do or say -but I do know she will love this.
I have also described elements of this book particularly Charlie, to my five year old son.
It’s not often that a book is so captivating and accessible to all.
Sondra- not only is Little Bee a survivor she is a fighter – who knows what we do and say if we felt threatened in this way. She may only be 16 but by that point she had already lived several lives.
Paula – finish the book you are denying yourself an unmissable treat.
Chris, was so excited about this wonderful new book. I love the humor and beautiful way you address such a serious issue of refugees finding refuge. Oh, how I love your lyrical timing. But I am unable to finish, because the language, most especially the f-bomb is dropped so many times. I understand there are those that express themselves this way, but, it seems such a shame to litter great literature with such trifle. I know you don’t agree, I respect your sensibilities, I just can’t believe how disappointed I am to not be able to finish it. Bummer! I will watch with hope you write one for me; one with all the beauty and human complexity, minus the colorful language. PS I have laughed over scum so many times. Even now, I am laughing.
Chris , what a wonderful and moving story . I have now passed my copy on to a friend . As someone who has always been passionate about human rights you have awoken these beliefs and have made me want to do more and find out more . Thanks .
I found “Little Bee” simply a fabulous, brilliantly written book. I was especially struck by one of your statements above:
“The new novel [Little Bee / The Other Hand] came out of a sense of my own complicity in some of the evils of the world. I’d moved on from considering myself as an outraged – and blameless – observer, which I guess is where I was at with Incendiary. A year on, I realised that people like me are often part of the problem. I began to think about my life, and how it is relatively easy, and how it is therefore relatively easy to ignore the suffering of others. And since suffering is the rule rather than the exception in the world, it’s not an easy moral question to duck as a writer.”
I couldn’t agree more and would offer two articles on my own blog that echo your sentiments:
Thank you for a truly enjoyable read and for the spirit behind your reason for writing the book in the first place.
The really remarkable thing about this, is that Little Bee is far more interlligent, kind and thoughtful than Sarah . Sarah has a ‘plastic’ world – works on a glossie mag, is having an affair, is not realy an honourable person. Little Bee is deeper, scarred but knows what it takes to survive, manages an important link to Charlie immediately, is wiser. They are bound by Sarah’s one moment of selflessness. And at the end, I thought: I would swap them – Little Bee to stay here with us and teach us, and Sarah to go to Nigeria (and its conflicts) and learn humility. Ace, awesome and quite brilliant.
I finished The Other Hand very early this morning and can’t get it out of my mind.
Brilliant writing, and a great “light” approach to a very serious subject.
Also, I’m VERY impressed by the way you wrote this story in not one, but two women’s words. Definitely one of the best books in my “Books read in 2009” list.
I bought “the other hand” at the train station, looking for an interesting book to accompany me on my journey. What I found was more than an intresting book. Needless to say before I got to my stop ( a 2.5 hour journey) I had finished the book. I couldn’t stop reading. The book is very profound. What you have described in that book, I can very much relate within my immediate experience. I also loved the way you interchanged between little Bee’s interpretation of her current happenings in London to how it would be like back home. I can realate to it all, even the exclamations :-). This is truly a master piece and I will be recommending this book for my book club readers: http://www.booksfortheseason.blogspot.com.
I look forward to reading some more of your work. God bless Remi
I am an American living in Italy, and immigration and asylum is an enormous issue here, as it was growing up in my homestate of Texas, on the Mexican border. I just finished The Other Hand and, although I am devastated, I am also busy reccomending it to everyone I know. Thank you for such a powerful journey and the gift you have given me of feeling such FEELING, the proof we are alive. You are truly gifted–your ability to write in the first person narrative for 2 females was so acute as to convince even me, a female, that the author must certainly be “Chris”, for “Christine”, but in any event CERTAINLY, a female. So, wow. You’re THAT good. Anyway, keep the books coming and God bless. Jessica
I just devoured Little Bee in only 2 days. It was one of those books that you just can’t wait to finish so you can see how the story plays out; yet you wish you could read it slowly to savor every page, every word. You are a remarkable writer and I thoroughly enjoyed this marvelous story. I told everyone I know to go out and get this book. It really is a must read! Thank you for such a great read, I’ll be looking for Incendiary next!
Literally just finished reading “Little Bee”, which left me sad, speechless, and so thankful for wonderful books such as yours. As I know no one else who is reading it right now, I searched for your site for answers and comfort from you and your reading community. If you could share – “off the record” – your vision/wish for Sarah and Little Bee right now, what do you think happens next? Thank you so much-
I have just finished reading “The Other Hand”; my eyes are still moist. I puzzled while reading whether you were male or female. Pardon my ignorance. Just discovered you are male writing as female. I will recommend your book to friends. My motivation to read your book was reading an article in Australian ‘Daily Telegraph’ that said Nicole Kidman was trying to buy the rights to the book to make a film of it. Was wondering was this true. Asking my local library tomorrow if they have”Incendiary” . Ta Maz.
Just finished reading “The Other Hand”. I had already bought it. Then, a few weeks later, it was chosen as our book club choice for the month. I was hooked from page one. Your writing is just so clever! I have underlined so much of the book- profound, ironic, funny, deeply sad. It opened up a whole world of asylum seekers that I knew little about. I laughed; I cried; I sat with my hand over my mouth making sure I was still breathing. Well done! The characters will stay with me. I will respond differently to news items on refugees. As a small-time writer, I am inspired & more than a little jealous of your gift. Keep up the good work.
WOW….what a read..I found myself telling the new Puppy “not now” and my husband “just a minute”. I just didn’t want to stop reading…thank you for taking me away from everything for awhile…Susie..Little Bee
Have just finished The Other Hand and it absorbed me from beginning to end – wonderful juxtaposition of wit and humour with the hard-to-take stuff. Having worked in Nigeria from time to time, the language and tone is bang on and you capture all that those of us who know the country both love and tear hair out about it and the people! What an indictment of the asylum screening system and attitudes in Little Britain. Could take issue with the direct role you allude to of the un-named oil companies – those majors with which I had contact tried hard to act ethically in a a difficult (albeit rewarding) political, commercial and working environment.
Nuff said – a wonderful book – my wife couldn’t believe it was written by a man – take that as a compliment! Thank you so much.
just finished “little bee.” Comment…..when bee addresses her issues with lawrence, in the kitchen, I don’t think the conversation was real, in that the way you described bee, up to that point, bee wouldn’t have talked up to lawrence. you characterized bee as being somewhat shy, yet here she was telling lawrence how she was going to do this, or that, to him. bee seemed to me to be totally out of character at that point. it’s your story though. your story can be anything you want it to be, as i’m certain you’re aware of.
Thanks Sondra. Well, that’s me told!
So good you wrote this book. In todays world of wars and displacement, torture, and horror, I am concerned about governments blocking refuggees who have ‘made it’ through to a supposed safe place. In Australia the majority of residents are arrivals from other countries or their decendants in the past 200 years but somehow they show no compassion for the forlorn arrivals in unseaworthy boats who have lost all and manage to travel onwards.
It is not a simple solution but I feel the huge amounts of money spent on the rounding up and detention of human beings could be used in a far more humane way. In our airports everyday, thousands of people arrive as visitors and are not subjected to such suspicion and incarceration.
I struggle daily with the position the world is in and zone in on nature, my children and art to help me stay sane. Thank you for writing this book and opening the minds and hearts of people worldwide. Peace and love, Janey.
Little Bee is a fabulous book, really captivating and offers insight into what immigrants often go through,unfortunately. I am Jamaican living in the US and I go home every year. Yvette is hilarious, Love her, Lived with Yvettes most of my life however, her experiences are not the experiences of the average Jamaican. There are individuals in Ja. who get involved with the “baddies”, I am packing my green swim suit and going back to Ja. to visit my family this summer as I do every summer.
I have recommended this to my friends and will be reading all your books. Can’t wait for Little Bee II. Thanks for capturing our colourful personality and sence of fashion. Love it!!
Thank you for such a thought provoking novel. I had not given any thought to assylum seekers bar the information given us in the media. It is my turn to choose this months book for our reading group and wish to share The Other Hand with my friends so that we can discuss it. I loved the way it was written, and found it drawing me into both Little Bees and Sarahs worlds.
It is a captivating book. Thank you
well chris what can I say that hasn’t already been said. Like others I picked up your book not knowing what to expect. I thought I was reading a book written by a woman, your charactors really lived and died on those pages. it is hard not to picture a “happy ending”, we want to believe that humankind is kind. If this was made into a film it would fictionalise it too much and I fear people would want to look forward to the dvd. Action is what is needed and our hearts and minds opened to do something however small. I for one will be looking at ways I can do something contructive to help those like Little Bee. Ive still got indegestion from reading this, like others I finished reading it in a week-end, never done this with a book before. Like the book I too felt moved by the comments and thoughts of your readers and I am proud to join in with their comments. Like to say the cover is brilliant who ever designed it. It is the imprint of the last page, Batman becomes Charlie standing on the beach, superb
When I was in the store, I was just looking for a book to read. I’m one of those people that picks the book because of the cover, and since it was bright orange, I picked it up. Reading the back description, I had no idea what it was about, and I thought, well even though buying the book means I have falled for the ” I won’t tell you, you just have to read it” trap, I secretly hoped it would be bad so that the next time I saw a book with that “pickup line,” I could say thats a cheap line because the books are usually not that special. But unfortunately, your book was special. And bizarre. I lived in Nigeria for a while, and so when I started reading it and it talked about the “weh” and just the way they talk, I really actually read it twice because it just seemed really unlikely that it was about Nigeria. I thought it was a book about two women and some love affair between the husband of one of them. But my ignorance has mislead me many times previously. Anyway, the whole point of this rambling is, I loved the book, I will look at refugees very differently, but I wished the part about Nigeria and the oil war was less “fictional” to use the same words I believe Kasia did, because from what I know, I believe the “oil war” is a lot less simple and has a lot less to do with the oil companies than you suggest in the novel, and I think a lot of readers might think that what actually happens. But I may be wrong, and so I hope you can tell me more about why you chose Nigeria and where you got the information from.
Thank you and sorry for making it so long!
The bottom half of page nine in Little Bee is the most beautiful piece of writing I have ever read. I wept when I read it. And again when I read it out loud to whoever would listen. Even now when I think of the words, I choke up with feeling.
I can honestly say that those string of words healed something deep inside of me that nothing else seemed to be able to. Thank you so much for the gift of your writing. I will always treasure those thoughts.
Best of luck to you and all your endeavors.
I don’t pick up many books to read- Between work, kids and home I just dont have the time. So when I do, I do my best to make sure it is something I will want to read past page 1. Immediatly, your language and writing captivated me. I write when I ‘can’ and am always amazed to see true talent with language.
When Little Bee spoke of wanting to be a British pound- It immediatly put me in her mind, her emotions and her self image- although I usually go for non contemporary reads I put it on the counter just as immediatly.
I must commend you on her beautiful beautiful voice- easily my favorite part of the book. Her descriptions, her comparisons- How did you learn that thought process so well? Did you listen to people who spoke this way or did this just come to you as you wrote?
Thanks very much for your efforts- they shine through-
Her premeditated affair goes unpunished by life, while Andrew’s momentary failure of courage dooms him forever. Life is savagely unfair.
This particularly struck me when reading this post, as it chimes with something Sebastian Barry said at the Grauniad book club thingie a few weeks ago – about everything being undone in, and unfolding from, a single moment, a solitary event. The trick is always to do that subtly and to make it feel inevitable and inexorable without being melodramatic (Thomas Hardy, I’m looking at you with your wretched letters under doormats, bleuch). I’m so excited to see that people are beginning to sit up and take notice of this book – I read both The Other Hand and Incendiary last year and loved them. Bravo, and thank you.
I have just finished your novel and all I can really say is wow! I love reading and never thought I’d find a book which I enjoyed and which affected me like ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel, but ‘the other hand’ has gone straight to the top in my mind! It made me laugh out loud and sob out loud (and get through half a roll of loo roll). I thought it was beautifully written and intelligent without using overly complex language and trying too hard as some writers do. Also, Batman so reminds me of my son (I was in a blind panic when he went missing!!) Anyway, I could go on but I won’t, a masterpiece you should so rightly be proud of! Thank you!
All I can add to previous comments is that I had no idea. I consider myself to be educated and well versed in current affairs but I had no idea that such atrocities can be allowed to continue both in our “holding facilities” and in countries that we are told are moving towards democracy.
Your style is captivating and the narrative emotive. Thankyou for such an enlightening and intelligent piece of work.
p.s i think ‘the other hand’ should be in the national curriculum
well!! thankyou , what a book. i have just finished ‘the other hand’, i congratulate you on a such a beautifully written book. i have learnt soooo much and feel very privilidged to be where i am today. i have been reading the Q&A’s and regarding the ending i feel hopeful for little bee but also fear. please can you write a follow on!! i am still thinking about sarah batman and little bee and will find it very hard to settle into another book. i have e mailed all my friends about the book, and have told them they have to buy it cause they are not getting their hands on my copy in fear of loosing it , and also because you deserve the recognition. thanks for writing it, best wishes janet.
Wow, what an awesome book! I can’t remember laughing out loud so much and being so inspired and moved at the same time. I fell in love with Little Bee and Sarah and can’t stop thinking about them. Also, loved the Jamaican girl—-she cracked me up! Thank you, thank you for writing it and I look forward to more of your incredible writing!
Dear Chris, I really appreciated reading The Other Hand. I think one of the things I liked most about it was the fact that while telling the story of Little Bee which is compelling and courageous and epic, it also explored the lives of Sarah, Andrew and Lawrence who are mundane and not terribly heroic and just like most of us in the Western world. It really raises important questions like: how do you live once you have heard the stories? How far will people go not to hear the stories? Is there some way to live bravely and constructively with these two worlds and not be destroyed as Andrew was.
I really appreciate your efforts and look forward to reading more of your work in the future.
Thanks Jodie, I’m really happy you got something out of the book. I think you put your finger on it perfectly when you say “how do you live once you have heard the stories?” That’s exactly the question I was grappling with when I was doing the research. I still really struggle with it, to be honest. The people I most admire are the veteran campaigners on this issue. Some of them have been campaigning for 20 or 30 years. They tend to take things one step at a time, and to think in terms of small, concrete actions they can do. Making one donation, writing one letter to a member of parliament, or helping one refugee with their situation. They do that, and then they do the next thing. That kind of patience and determination is not generally seen as heroism, but I reckon it might be.
I have just finished your novel ‘the other hand’ – I can really only echo what others above have said – that I found it a truly fantastic piece of work. The characters are so real and imperfect.
I unfortunately don’t agree there was happy ending for Little Bee – no! Lawrence didn’t ride up the sand in his white charger.
Any well disciplined group of soldiers that would shoot near a small white boy (surely understanding the diplomatic incident his injury might cause) definitely meant business. I only hope her death was quick and merciful and that she didn’t have to endure the horrors and humiliations of her older sister.
For me the gift of this book is that it invades one’s own cosy middle class, cocooned world and forces one to look at oneself and one’s values. I can only hope that I can hang on to this feeling long enough to make some substantive change.
Thank you again.
Reading The Other Hand has taken me to places I would not have imagined when it was first recommended to me…
My mother is a refugee… Once completing the novel I was moved to sharing with her some of my own work with young African refugees from the Sudan and Uganda… I had not thought of doing this previously but was moved to do so by your work…
This proved to be a significant conversation for both of us and has opened the way to many more stories being shared…
Both my mother and I thank you dearly.
I found The Other Hand hugely touching and compelling. Like other readers, my only regret is reading it far too quickly. I was incredibly greedy with it and gobbled my way through with no self-restraint whatsoever. Disgraceful. Some of the sentences are so beautiful I feel I must go back and reread them to do them justice.
But in addition to the book, the posts from readers on this website have also moved me. As someone who has worked with refugees in the UK since 2000, it is immensely heartening to see that so many people have been moved to action by this book. So thank you to Chris, for bringing the voices of refugees to those who might not otherwise hear them, and thank you to all you readers for opening your hearts and minds to this issue.
But please do not let yourselves fall prey to Sarah and Andrew’s consuming guilt about ‘not having done enough’. Please do something, however small, to support refugees.
You can give time, by writing letters to MPs, volunteering or protesting.
You can share your wealth by giving money to support charities that work with refugees or by giving goods like winter coats, toiletries and phone cards that are desperately needed by destitute asylum seekers.
You can give your passion by writing to the press in response to inaccurate and hysterical reporting of asylum, or by challenging the misconceptions you might hear amongst colleagues and friends.
There is so much to do. Please do something.
There is a whole list of simple things you can do here: http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/RAP/whatcanido.aspx and http://www.refugeeweek.org.uk/simple-acts
And a range of campaign actions here: http://www.refugee-action.org.uk
In relation to this book, the campaign against the detention of children led by the Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees is particularly relevant: http://www.biduk.org
Whatever you do to stand up for refugees, thank you.
Dear Chris Cleave,
I vcolunteer at my church’s bookstore and during a recent stint your book , Little Bee”, was on display. I was instantly attracted the cover, epsecially the title. During a lull I was able to read the first thirty pages and I was hooked. I eventually devoured the book and will read a second time more slowly. The character of Little Bee touched my deeply. For her age she was very wise and I thought of her as an old soul. I agonized with Sarah, sympathized with Andrew and did not like Lawrence very much. Little Charlie stole my heart and his character added so much to your story. I will recommend your book to my book club and all my reader friends. Thank you for sharing your incredible gift with us, your readers. You’ve gained a new fan.
Brigitte Grunwald Moore
St. Petersburg, Florida
I read your first book a couple of years ago and I thought it was a very visceral… I had to read parts of it with one eye closed and I still have the occasional “flashback” .This said it also made me laugh so much!
When I saw that you had written another book I snapped it off the shelf and devoured it in a day being quite unable to saviour it like some of your other readers. I knew it was going to be brilliant even before I started reading the first page and I was not disappointed. I don’t know how you feel about me saying this but I think both books would make excellent films as they are so visual and the characters are so well drawn that they do very much live on in our imagination. I know it wouldn’t be the same but a popular film that gets across to the masses and changes hearts and minds is very much needed right now.
I also want to say that I very much appreciated your ability to articulate traumatic events from the inside and little Bee’s obsession with finding ways to end her life everywhere she went is, I think, surprisingly common but hardly ever discussed.
I am working with my own “little Bee” who is many years older and no less charming. She was very severely traumatised by what happened to her in her own country of origin and also I am sorry to say over here in detention. She also almost succeeded in hanging herself whilst in detention and is still a suicide risk today several years after she was granted asylum.
The work we do together is very mundane and ordinary – paying bills, negotiating with people in authority, being there to help her negotiate the rough terrain of recovery. What a lot of people don’t know is that it can often be even more difficult once the real danger has passed the memories begin to resurface and it hurts so much that they wish they had died. It’s also the grinding bureaucracy that’s bad enough for someone who isn’t a refugee but a bloody nightmare when you have language and cultural barriers and discrimination and trauma on top. So if you are moved to want to help then please do because there are so many people who need a friend, an advocate and mentor. It can and does make such a difference one life at a time.
Thank you Chris for being so clever and funny and eloquent and thanks to Batman just for being such great inspiration!
I too enjoyed the book imensely and would like to spend more time getting to know Little Bee, Batman and Sarah better. I’m sure they all have a life now outside the novel (Udo has somehow been set free and is now a trainee journalist in Abuja, Sarah has ditched the loathsome Lawrence and Batman is .. well, Batman.)
But… what’s the alternative to detention and deportation. Can we really have an open door policy? Can we sift the “deserving” from the opportunist from the terrorist without locking them all up while we try and verify a story hidden deep beneath the surface in a hostile country? How can we expect the wardens/jailers to show compassion when it’s “just a job, like plumbing”
The “refugee problem” isn’t a treatable disease, it’s a symptom. We can improve our paliative care, of course we can, but the root cause lies in the greed for power and money that we see everywhere. Mugabe follows Amin, oil follows slavery, Tibet follows Palestine. From Russia to Brazil, the “haves” protect what they have and lust for more, and the “have nots” die.
I’ve now depressed myself so much, I’ll have to go and reread the first chapter of “the other hand” to warm myself in Little Bees’s sunshine.
Thanks for a great novel, Chris.
The Other Hand, if just 1 refugee is saved as a consequence of your writing….well you’ll have to write a sequel now. You invited me into a story but it became & is real…I feel so powerless! More reading & to find a concrete way to help, that’s your legacy to me. I don’t want to lose the feelings that your book allowed to surface. It’s too easy to say it’s a novel, it isn’t. You tasted the whole, you wrote about it all with the most human face, so please keep this fire ignited. Sequel please….I need to know what happened to all the players. By the way, you wrote brilliantly & I believed you. Well done.
Thanks for your reply Chris, I’ve written to you personally to explain my comments which were compiled in a somewhat emotive state. I apologise if they have been seen as unintentionally provocative.
I can’t emphasise enough how hugely important it is to express the plight of asylum seekers and refugees who are massively misconstrued in the media. Hopefully your readers will look further into their treatment and experiences in the UK via the links you have provided. It’s really encouraging that people have been inspired to do this and look into working with asylum seekers through your work (there are ‘goodies’ out there but there can never be enough).
Kasia, thank you for this comment and also for your personal email, which was very moving. I am certain that there are some very good people working in the UK immigration system (in addition, I feel I must add, to some people who ought to be trying harder). I didn’t think your original comments on this page were out of line at all, and I’d like to apologise in my turn if I replied to them in a heavy-handed way. I can be a bore sometimes. I think it’s absolutely right, and also brave of you, to challenge me on the aspects of the novel that concern you. I think this sort of dialogue strengthens traditions that we both believe in. I’m learning about this as I go along, and I’m grateful to you for improving my understanding. Very best wishes to you.
The emotion throughout the journey which unfolded moved me to tears. I read some paragraphs over and over to absorb the moment. I hear a lot of people’s stories being a psychotherapist.. this one reached in and touched my soul as much as someone’s real story. I really look forward to reading your next book.
This book makes me want to look into working with asylum seekers… if only to hear their stories to let them know that they are not alone.
I just had to write to express my true admiration at how On the Other Hand moved me like no other novel ever has. As an avid reader, this is a statement not made lightly.
Your style of writing and descriptive powers brought this sad and poignant story that is sadly all too real.
I am looking forward to your next book with great anticipation.
with best wishes
“Little Bee” is easily the best book I’ve read since Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” You managed to convey more insight, feeling, outrage, and understanding in your concise novel than are found in fictions two and three times as long.
And the writing!! Bravo!!! I am moved and jealous. I will recommend this book to everyone. This is why we have fiction.
I really hope Chris that each person who reads this book is motivated enough to become an active voice for change for these people seekeing asylum.
The asylum process is de-humanising and the potential beauty of each of these human beings is lost behind the bars of our own reluctance to see the reality of the damage that this system does to people. If this book has moved you, as someone who works with asylum seekers here in Ireland, please speak out.
Do what ever you can to make a change and a difference.
Chris, can I use your site to reply to Kasia?
If she had spent four years fighting for a “Little Bee”, as I have done she would know that the only inaccuracy in your portrayal is that it is too “soft”.
When you have dealings with the UKBA you become convinced that they have compassion and fairness surgically removed when they are employed.
Like you I would love to discuss this matter with Kasia.
Dear Chris –
Firstly, I’d like to add my thanks. The Other Hand is an incredible book. It’s light? dark? humour was utterly compelling and the descriptions of the British people absolutely accurate. Recommended by a fellow reading enthusiast, I’m in the process of giving it to everyone I know.
Secondly, I am writing an essay for a University assignment on the plight of asylum seekers – would you mind if I quoted your interviews in that? There’s no external publishing, copyrighting or similar, just an essay. I’d be very grateful if I could.
Alex – thank you for your kind words. Yes, of course, please feel free to quote from any of my stuff. (It’s good of you to ask – although I believe you have a perfect right to quote from the published words of anyone you like, without needing their permission). Good luck with your essay – I hope it goes well. I recommend the excellent information at http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/ if you’re in need of some additional data. All best wishes, Chris
I just finished reading ‘the other hand’ last night. I would like to thank you for writing this extraordinary book. I learnt alot from this book and I cannot wait to read your next one. thanks!
There is a factual inaccuracy in the last sentence of ‘The Other hand'(Notes). And that is that this book has many hits but simply no misses! Overwhelming and compellingly beautiful. Thank you for what can only be described as an exceptional piece of work. Eagerly awaiting the next offering!
a wonderful book i am sorry that i finished it. could read it forever
You’re a brilliant writer telling what I know is all too real..but my heart is broken for all of them. Please write a sequel in which Little Bee survives and becomes a great advocate, with the help of Sarah & Lawrence, to change this inhumane system …and Batman helps the goodies overcome ALL the baddies!
Chris. This was a great book, I am a librarian in the United States I have been looking for a great book for my book club and I just found it. I thank you for your wonderful way of making this book one of the few that change my life. As I have read many but few have touched me like this one. Thank you
Hi Chris! I haven’t written to an author before but I just wanted to express to you how deeply moved I have been by your novel ‘The Other Hand’. I finished it this morning and I cried in the shower for 20mins thinking about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. I just can’t stop thinking about Little Bee and all that she represents. I’m going to research volunteering at a refugee centre to see if there’s anything I can do to help – particularly to see if there’s anything that can be done to help the children in the detention centres? It seems to me that even just small things would make a difference, like the nail polish that keeps Little Bee feeling human. I work in the charity sector but I’m on maternity leave at the moment as I have a six month old son. I know it’s a fundamental change that is needed at policy level but on a day-to-day basis, there must be some practical things that people can do? I just wanted to thank you from the botton of my heart for writing this book and will let you know how it goes!
If I sounded at all snobby in the beginning of my posting, I apologize. I should have thought that through beforehand. It’s no excuse, but I had just finished the book, and was excited. Thank you again for your thought provoking novel.
Melony, you didn’t sound snobby at all. Thank you for your very kind posting!
I love to read, hence my degrees in literature. Most current fiction, may be entertaining, but falls short. Little Bee, however, is quite wonderful. What drew me in was the humor. Structurally, I especially liked the circularity with the proverbs and the money. Thematically, I love (and agree) with the common humanity of all. My selection for my bookclub to read is Little Bee!!! We will be discussing your book in May, and I can’t wait. I am sure everyone will have enjoyed your book; and, we should have some interesting conversation. Thank you so very much for putting this book out in the world!
Like many others on here, I have also just finished Little Bee. Wow. I picked it for my book club on the suggestion from a friend that lives in another city and chose it for her book club. Knowing nothing about it, I dove in and bascially ignored my husband and 17 mos old twins while I read for two days straight. I was completely engrossed and learned, laughed and teared up throughout. I have so many questions as to what happens now? perhaps a follow up and exploring what happened to Yvette on her journey should be considered! Do Sarah and Lawrence end up together? Do Little Bee and Sarah ever see each other again? and how does Charlie fare through this all? Truly an amazing book!
I just finished reading your amazing novel, ” Little Bee.” As an African woman who immigrated to the USA over fifteen years ago, this book reminded me of what makes us leave everything we know, our families, etc for a “so called” better life. The scars are usually so deep that you often question yourself many times whether it was worth it. Thank you for the attention that you are bringing to the asylum process. Change is on its way! The struggle continues. Thank you.
I was so moved by your book, that I felt I had to come and find out more about why you wrote it, where you got your inspiration and how you did your research.
It’s a wonderful book and it’s a subject too often overlooked. I really enjoyed Marina Lewyka’s Two Caravans as well, although that is less gritty, at times it is heartbreaking as well.
It’s unlike me to go so far into something, but your reply to Kasia moved me to read some of the reports on detention centres.
I agree with Kasia in that if I had one criticism of your book it would be to say that it paints UKBA employees as racist and uncaring. While I’ve no doubt that many are, there are also people who try desperately to ease the suffering of asylum seekers. The most touching instance I read about was the Manager of Religious Affairs at Dungavel who spoke seven languages and was trying to ensure that everybody used their phone call allowance. I know this is the exception rather than the rule, but I just thought that the good ones could get a mention too.
Greetings Chris, this is one of the most moving and beautiful novels I have ever read…congrats. Sure makes one thing differently about the world we inhabit. Would love this to be brought to the screen.
My only disappointment is that the story ended…I found myself only reading 10 or so pages at a time to make it last longer.
Cheers to you and yours.
Have just finished the other hand and have enjoyed every minute… I couldn’t put the book down and then started feeling slightly depressed knowing I was going to finish it a little to quick!! I bought the book at Waterstones and when I read the back for an overview before buying it I just had to read it. The humour about not really saying that much about the story and not spoiling the story for the next reader was great. I had so many laughs which is great medicine for anyone. You have written a beautiful novel and I will be recommending it to all my friends. I haven’t read any of your other books but look forward to reading more. Thanks for creating a novel that was such a pleasure to read. Maybe a follow on as to what happened with Little Bee and Sarah and Charlie would be very much welcomed!!!
Chris, I was deeply moved by your novel. It is a beautiful piece of fiction, and in turns ,turned my blood hot and cold.
I feel though that there are some grave inaccuracies regarding your portrayal of the UK Border Agency. I understand that ultimately the novel is fiction yet the notes at the end of the novel suggest that you have tried to stick to essential facts wherever possible and by reading the comments made above your readers have taken your word as gospel.
I feel it is important to say that the UKBA does not deport unaccompanied minors (Like Littlebee) and the description of her claim to remain in the UK is blurry at best. Would it have been possible to write such a beautiful and harrowing story without ‘fictionalising ‘ the UKBA?
Kasia, thank you for your kind words about the book and for the thoughtful tone of your criticisms of it. In answer to the specific point that you make about Little Bee’s deportation, I’m aware (from the story of Manuel Bravo) that minors are not deported, and indeed in the novel Little Bee is no longer a minor when she is deported. With regard to the more general point you make about the UK Border Agency, I am certain that I have not misrepresented the situation in any of its salient aspects. In fact my novel’s criticisms of the immigration detention system pale in comparison with those of Her Majesty’s own Inspectorate of Prisons. For example, the Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote in a 2008 report: “The plight of detained children remained of great concern. While child welfare services had improved, an immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for children and we were dismayed to find cases of disabled children being detained and some children spending large amounts of time incarcerated.” I would be happy to debate these issues with you or with a representative of UKBA in an open forum. In fact I have asked the Home Office for an interview on several occasions, through their Press Office, but so far they have not been forthcoming. Do get in touch with me on chriscleave at gmail.com if you would like to talk about this. I’m always interested in hearing from people working within the immigration system, and I’d be pleased to speak with you either on the record or off.
I am not sure about the ending of Little Bee. I would like to hear reactions.
Oh yeah!! Two sittings and it was done. That is the most unfortunate thing about your book…it’s finished.
My ending was a happy one…eventually for LittleBee.
What a story! And an education… Thought provoking, I am still reeling – read the book in practically one sitting. Thank you Chris for making me sit up and reconsider my world.
I don’t think I will ever feel the same again when pumping gas into my car. What a profound book. Wish you could have included the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont on your tour. I’m the event coordinator, and we’d be happy to have you if you ever come this way.
Thank you Linda – and thanks for the invitation. I’d love to visit on my next trip if that’s okay with you. And sorry about the gas thing…
What a beautifully written, wonderfully told story. I don’t remember the last time I felt so compelled to finish a book on the one hand, while struggling to slow down and savor every word on the other (no pun intended)! I am convinced the the story has a happy ending based on the first line of the second chapter. I’d be curious to know if I’m reading too much into it…
A really wonderful story and so well written. I was unable to put it down because I was hooked from the first page. I laughed and cried and thought Little Bee was wonderful. I would love to know what happened to her and I feel so sad that she may not have made it after all she went through.
I have just finished reading Little Bee / The Other Hand and am emotionally exhausted! Thank you for a truly incredible book. There were so many times when I couldn’t see the words through my tears and had to put it down and sob loudly into my pillow before I felt I could carry on reading. It was truly unbearable in parts – so tragic, so achingly beautiful. Little Bee touched my heart in a way that I cannot describe in words. I can’t believe she’s not real. I have made up my own happy ending in which Lawrence comes striding down the beach and saves the day, using his contacts with important people. I simply cannot bear to imagine that Little Bee didn’t emerge triumphant after all she’d been through. You are a genius and my new favourite author. With the greatest respect and admiration, Kelly-May
I have just finished your book and am amazed at the emotions it has provoked. What a beautiful book to enlighten so many senses, reality, tortue and hope.
I chose the book for it’s cover ( I know you should never so that), but when I read the back I was also very entrigued. I will advise all my friends to read it, although I’d ask them not to read what happened to Little Bee’s sister – it truly upset me, but realise that it is probably quite realistic. I am going to go and buy your other book now – Fantastic. Thank you for a wonderful three days of reading.
Chris Cleave is a great author. I am very much impressed by his writing . the interview truly described his passion for writing and sincerity. i think we re lucky to have authors like Chris.
I thought I was on the wrong page (that happens a lot) because everyone is reading “The Other Hand,” while I was reading “Little Bee.” Then I realized that the same book had two different titles and cover art. I wonder why?
And, I have to tell you, even though it might seem rude, I get so mad when I read a book like this. It absolutely ruins me for almost every other book for months and months. It happened with Memoirs of a Geisha and Kite Runner and now, it’s finally happened again. Spoiled Americans, I know. But I’m happy to say I haven’t read your first book yet and will be picking it up as soon as possible.
I must also mention that whoever wrote the blurb for the inside front cover is a genius. I picked up the book and set it back down three times, but after reading that, I was compelled to pick it up and bring it home.
I read, on average, 3 books a week, but I took seven full days to read this one because it was so much like expensive chocolate (I’m a dedicated chocoholic). It’s rich with detail, it lingers as a luxuriant experience long after you’ve finished it, and even though you want to gobble it all down in one bite, you so want it to last and last even more.
Please allow me to add my thanks to you for writing this book. And please don’t ever stop writing.
I bought your book in an airport, I’m not sure why it attracted my attention.. I have to confess I’d never heard of you or your writing before. I opened the book at page one as the plane took off…and looked up with dismay as the plane touched down two hours later and i was in the midst of reading the beach scene. I honestly contemplated sitting down in the airport to read to the end of the book before driving home, but decided not to worry my children who were waiting for me! I finished reading the book that evening.Its a long time since i’ve felt so compelled to continue reading to the end of a book and to recommend it to everyone I know. I’ve never written to an author before either but felt I had to congratulate you on this incredible story. So many people in Britain are brainwashed by tabloid headlines screaming out about the unjustness of “free handouts” to parasitical immigrants and asylum seekers, who come to Britain to sponge and enjoy our benefits – your book tells the real story so beautifully it should be compulsory reading especially for people who believe everything they read in the papers!
I hope that other readers are equally inspired to look at the websites/ reading you suggest and are spurred into action as i have been.
I picked up ‘the other hand’ purely by chance and i’m really glad i did. Writing a story about an immigrant can be difficult to portray with all the mixtures of emotion without compromising the story. I believe you successfully showed your character to be very much 3-dimensional, as so often immigrants are painted in one light, mostly in tragic circumstances. I know it won’t happen anytime soon but I really hope the home office can change their policies on waiting times. As an organisation,they fail to realise how a simple decision they make/do not make on time contributes to a needless gradual mental anguish faced by so many people.
Thank you for writing a very accessible .warm and engaging book. You manage to deliver the issue in a way that we can all relate to.
I live and work in East London, I meet people who occasionally i realise are illegal, but what worries me is not just the coldness of the system, but also what happens to them when they are too old too get work and cannot get benefits etc. what abyss will they fall into then? How would a 70 yr old cope being sent back to Kingston JA, with no family, money etc and maybe still scared of being killed.
How will he cope here with no family, too scared to even go to a doctor?
There was much i recognised and related to in your book.
In any case I won’t be packing a green bikini and checking out JA. Thanks for the inspiration and good luck with your future projects,x
Thank you for another fantastic read.
In my experience life is tragic comedy in scales small and large, and surely there is no futher proof needed of fate’s dark sense of humour than the cruel lotteryof country of birth
‘The other hand’ was a humbling reminder of the luxury i have in my safe 1sr world country to have the chance to enjoy each day. And a further reminder that those who have the least seem to possess a generousity beyond material means lacking in our consumer culture.
This is the first book I have ever read where i finished the last chapter and when straight back and read the first again because I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Little Bee.
I shall be agressively recommending it to all especially my male aquaintances so you can hopefully get some gushing feedback from someone with a man’s name.
Look forward to your next offering.
Dear Chris, thank you for a wonderful experience , “The Other Hand”. I laughed and I cried and also felt ashamed. You are a very talented author to be able to write about two powerfully connected women with such sensitivity and emotion. Thank you…
I have just finished reading ‘The Other Hand’. Thank you for a beautifully written book and a captivating story. You are a wonderful writer.
You manage to take such serious (and horrific) issues and make the reader just want to keep reading through their tears.
I have learned so much about refugees and detention centres from your book.
I literally just read the last page. Your book is so emotive and real I am weeping whilst I type. Our treatment of refugees in Australia is also shocking, callous and shameful. I don’t understand how people and governments disassociate themselves from such harmful immigration policies that foster such misery and do so little to ameliorate the suffering of the most marginalised.
I read ‘The Other Hand’ this summer, and I have never found a piece of literature to be so compelling, engaging, heartwarming, thought provoking, informative, insightful, and quite simply beautifully written. To even remind myself of the story, the characters, or moments in the writing just fills me with a feeling I can not describe.
I want everyone to read this book.
Once everyone has read this book, I then want everyone to read ‘Blue Sky July’ by Nia Wynn.
I bought “Incendiary” without realising what it was about. If someone had told me in a sentence, I wouldn’t have bought it but would have missed an extraordinary and wonderful book. So I simply had to buy “Other Hand” as soon as I saw it. And I wasn’t disappointed. Yet another amazing book, brilliant in raising such complex and shocking issues in so deceptively simple a story. Chris has the power to conjure up the emotions a person would feel in circumstances most of us can’t even imagine. I can’t wait for his next book.
I have just finished reading The Other Hand. To say it has deeply affected me is an understatement. Whilst it can be shocking and upsetting, there is still laugh out loud humour and the most amazing story-telling. Totally fantastic!