little bee-chris cleave

i first learned of this book just over a year ago, as it was in the carry-on language of a visitor from new york. the cover and the cryptic jacket description and praise recently caught my eye again, beckoning at me from a shelf at my home branch, taunting me away from the mountain of hold materials currently in my care. after the two days that i spent with it, i experienced an actual sadness that it was out of my life, ironically after the compulsion to spend my every free moment with it. maybe it’s because it’s about phantom limb pain (and lynda barry spoke of the probably existing and never mentioned phantom limb pleasure). at any rate, i have a mad writer crush, and the library seems to secretly support it, as incendiary arrived on my hold shelf today, when i requested it fifteen minutes after i finished little bee. (swoon).

“Truly, there is no flag for us floating people. We are millions, but we are not a nation. We cannot stay together. Maybe we get together in ones and twos, for a day or a month or even a year, but then the wind changes and carries the hope away. Death came and I left in fear. Now all I have is my shame and the memory of bright colors and the echo of Yevette’s laugh. Sometimes I feel as lonely as the Queen of England.” (80)




3 thoughts on “little bee-chris cleave

  1. further british subjects:

    “How I would love to be a British pound. A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. This is the human triumph. This is called, /globalization/. A girl likes me gets stopped at immigration, but a pound can leap the turnstiles, and dodge the tackles of those big men with their uniform caps, and jump straight into a waiting airport taxi. /Where to, sir?/ Western Civilization, my good man, and make it snappy.” (2)

    “Learning the Queen’s English is like scrubbing off the bright red varnish from your toenails, the morning after a dance. It takes a long time and there is always a little bit left at the end, a stain of red along the growing edges to remind you of the good time you had. So, you can see that learning came slowly to me. On the other hand, I had plenty of time. I learned your language in an immigration detention center, in Essex, in the southeastern part of the United Kingdom. Two years, they locked me in there. Time was all I had.” (3)

    funny how prison sounds a lot like university. we need to check our institutions, yo.

    “This was always my trouble when I was learning to speak your language. Every word can defend itself. Just when you go to grab it, it can split into two separate meanings so the understanding closes on empty air. I admire you people. You are like sorcerers and you have made your language as safe as your money.” (13)

    “Three weeks and five thousand miles on a tea ship-maybe if you scratched me you would still find that my skin smells of it. When they put me in the immigration detention center, they gave me a brown blanket and a white plastic cup of tea. And when I tasted it, all I wanted to do was to get back into the boat and go home again, to my country. Tea is the taste of my land: it is bitter and warm, strong, and sharp with memory. It tastes of longing. It tastes of the distance between where you are and where you come from. Also it vanishes-the taste of it vanishes from your tongue while your lips are still hot from the cup. It disappears, like plantations stretching up into the mist. I have heard that your country drinks more tea than any other. How sad that must make you-like children who long for absent mothers. I am sorry.” (129)

    “If this policeman began to suspect me, he could call the immigration people. Then one of them would click a button on their computer and mark a check box on my file and I would be deported. I would be dead, but no one would have fired any bullets. I realized, this is why the police do not carry guns. In a civilized country, they kill you with a click. The killing is done far away, at the heart of the kingdom in a building full of computers and coffee cups.” (241)

  2. first world problems:

    “In the contested delta area of an African country in the middle of a three-way oil war, because there was a beach next to the war, because the state tourist board had mail-merged tickets for that beach to every magazine listed in the /Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook/, because it was that year’s cut, and because as editor I was first in the queue when distributors sent their own freebies to my magazine’s office, I was wearing a very small green bandeau bikini from Hermes. It occurred to me, as I stood there with my arms crossed over my tits, that I had freeloaded myself to annihilation.” (109)

    “He’d been awake all night writing an opinion piece about the Middle East, which was a region he had never visited and had no specialist knowledge of. It was the summer of 2007, and my son was fighting the Penguin and the Puffin, and my country was fighting Iraq and Afghanistan, and my husband was forming public opinion. It was the kind of summer where no one took their costume off.” (27)

    “The war was four years old. It had started in the same month my son was born, and they’d grown up together. At first both of them were a huge shock and demanded constant attention but as each year went by, they became more autonomous and one could start to take one’s off them for extended periods. Sometimes a particular event would cause me momentarily to look at one or the other of them-my son, or the war-with full attention, and at times like these I would always think, /Gosh, haven’t you grown?/” (33)

  3. you can(‘t?) compare lives:

    “In my village we never saw more than fifty people in one place. If you ever saw more than that, it meant that you had died and gone to the city of the spirits. That is where the dead go, to a city, to live together in their thousands because they do not need the space to grow their fields of cassava. When you are dead you are not hungry for cassava, only for company.” (84)

    “Why couldn’t I cry? Soon I would have to go and face a church full of mourners. I rubbed my eyes, harder than our beauty experts advise. I needed to show red eyes to the mourners, at least. I needed to show them that I /had/ cared Andrew, truly cared for him. Even if, since Africa, I hadn’t really bought the idea of love as a permanent thing, measurable in self-administered surveys, present if you answered mostly B. So I gouged my thumbs into the skin beneath my lashes. If I couldn’t show the world grief, at least I would show the world what it did to your eyes.” (91)

    “Imagine how tired I would become, telling my story to the girls from back home. This is the real reason why no one tells us Africans anything. It is not because anyone wants to keep my continent in ignorance. It is because nobody has time to sit down and explain the first world from first principles. Or maybe you would like to, but you can’t. Your culture has become sophisticated, like a computer or a drug that you take for a headache. You can use it, but you cannot explain how it works. Certainly not to girls who stack up their firewood against the side of the house.” (128)

    “I held Andrew’s biscuits in my hand. I thought about throwing them away, and I found that I couldn’t. How duplicitous grief is, I thought. Here I am, too sentimental to throw away something that gave Andrew slight comfort, even as I cook supper for Lawrence. I felt horribly traitorous, suddenly. This is /exactly/ why one shouldn’t let one’s lover into one’s home, I thought.” (172)

    “What is an adventure? That depends on where you are starting from. Little girls in your country, they hide in the gap between the washing machine and the refrigerator and they make believe they are in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around them. Me and my sister, we used to hide in a gap in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around us, and make believe that we had a washing machine and a refrigerator. You live in a world of machines and you dream of things with beating hearts. We dream of machines, because we see where beating hearts have left us.” (211)

    “Each word took forever to form. It felt like waiting for the woman to engrave the sentence in stone. I was already halfway back down the steps before she finished speaking.” (236)

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