Friday, July 01, 2011

Book Review: "The Other Hand"

I read Chris Cleave's The Other Hand (published in the US as Little Bee) in Hodder & Stoughton's new flipback edition (2011). I'd saved it up to read while traveling, since I wanted to try out the format for reading in airports and on the plane, and I found the small size and light weight incredibly handy for that purpose. When I finished this book I switched over to a (fairly hefty) trade paperback book, and was really astounded at how bulky it seemed. So, chalk that up to a win for the format; they seem like a really good way for travelers to haul around a few full-length books very easily.

But, on to The Other Hand. Told from the alternating perspectives of a young Nigerian refugee in England (Little Bee) and Sarah Summers, an English magazine editor, the novel is the story of how the two women's lives converge, at particularly difficult times, with life-altering consequences.

Cleave's writing is very clear, and he's managed to create two memorable female narrators, each with a very separate voice and point of view. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments (at the antics of Sarah's young son, who insists on dressing as Batman, and at various points where Little Bee, seeing English culture from an outsider's perspective, offers some bitingly trenchant comments on what she observes), but on the whole the novel is one of those where it's difficult to see how things could possibly turn out well in the end.

Deeply moving as a story, and also an important book for the light it sheds on the treatment of political refugees in today's society.

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