Tag-Archive for ◊ atrocious circumstances ◊

Author:
• Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Chris Cleave was born in London in 1973. His father, a highly qualified chemist who could not find work in England in the seventies, moved with his family to Cameroon, west Africa, where he built a Guinness brewery. Chris Cleave spent part of his childhood there and was back in England when he was eight years old. He first went to Hillingdon state school in London and continued his studies in Buckinghamshire, followed by psychology studies at Balliol College, Oxford.

Cleave, who is a novelist and was a columnist for the Guardian newspaper from 2008 to 2010, has worked as a barman, a long distance sailor and a marine navigation teacher.

He lives in Kingston-Upon-Thames near London with his French wife and three children.

Chris Cleave has written two novels to date plus Gold to be published in June 2012:
Incendiary, published in 2005 was adapted into a feature film.
The Other Hand, published in 2008 and will soon be adapted into a film.
He has also written three short stories: Quiet Time. Fresh Water and Oyster.

Cleave’s first novel, Incendiary, won the Somerset Maugham Award in 2006 and was short-listed for the 2006 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. In 2008 he was short-listed for the Costa Book Awards in the novel category for his second novel, The Other Hand (Little Bee).

The Other Hand was influenced by Cleave’s childhood in Cameroon. The novel is narrated by the two main characters, Sarah and Little Bee, each one with her own side of the story. The two of them met two years ago for the first time, on a beach in Nigeria in atrocious circumstances. Despite their difference in age and culture, they have in common the aspiration for a peaceful and happy life.

Sarah is an English, hard-working young woman. She is editor of a glossy, women’s magazine called Nixie and is married to the journalist, Andrew O’Rourke. They have a four-year-old child called Charlie, who dresses and carries on as the fictional super-hero character, Batman. They all live in Kingston-upon-Thames. Sarah is unhappy in her wedlock and commits adultery with Lawrence, a Home Office press officer, who is also unhappily married.

As for Udo, she has changed her name to Little Bee and has managed to escape the horror, violence and corruption in her native Nigeria, caused by big oil company exploitation, by seeking asylum in England. Little Bee’s sense of humour and wit is kept intact at all times, even at the worst moments, which helps to keep her going through all the hardships she has to endure. In fact she is quite hilarious often, creating some sort of comic relief, lightening the serious theme of the novel.

In his novel, the author tackles modern, world-wide, important problems: the immigration, the shameful treatment of asylum seekers and how they are sent to their ineluctable deaths. The reader is immersed in the subject right from the first pages of the novel, which starts in the immigration detention centre in Essex, England, where the main character, Little Bee, is detained for two years following her stowaway arrival from Nigeria on a tea cargo ship.

She succeeds in escaping thanks to a clever stratagem orchestrated by a Jamaican girl who is also an asylum seeker and who manages to rescue three girls with her from incarceration without any legal papers. From this point, the whole story unfolds in snippets, the mystery of sixteen-year-old Little Bee and the shocking encounter with the O’Rourke couple, Sarah and Andrew in Nigeria.

Throughout the novel the author transports us from sunny, warm, corrupt and violent Nigeria, whose delta inhabitants are killed because they happen to be living on the unexplored, rich oil area, to the cold, grey, mundane life in England. The contrast is stunning in every respect between the two different worlds of fortunate and unfortunate people who both suffer in different ways. The two existences portrayed in a captivating and moving way.

There is also the underlining of the choices that some people have to make in life. Sarah had to sacrifice her middle finger to save Little Bee’s life, but on the other hand, while in a panic, she thoughtlessly asked Little Bee to contact the police to come and search for her missing, four-year-old son, Charlie. This ended in having Little Bee uncovered and arrested by the same police officers she had called to the rescue. Little Bee, who is young and innocent, makes the choice of fleeing her country to escape from the killers who are after her. As for Andrew O’Rourke, who is suffering from deep depression, he chooses to commit suicide which is helped by the reappearance of Little Bee.

The story’s end is intense and effective, conveying a powerful message. This is doubtless deliberate on the part of the author in order to awaken the human compassion and sense of decency in the hope of provoking a positive reaction and not having his missive lost like a scream in the desert.

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