review: The Other Hand

title: The Other Hand

author: Chris Cleave

date: 2008; Sceptre

main character:  Little Bee

Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl.

When you read my review and then decide to read this book, you’ll need to know that it was retitled for publication in the US to Little Bee. The British title is understood in retrospect and knowing what the other hand could have done is what the book is all about.

The use of names is meaningful to the story. When the girl with no name was asked her name, she said “I do not tell people my name. That way it is safer.”   Little Bee only told her real name to Batman when she felt her world closing in on her. Names, what we call things and what we answer to is such an integral part of this story, I find it amazing that the title was changed especially to something with so little meaning.

We must all see scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because, take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means “I survived”.

We know so little about places on a globe. Would you go some random country in Africa just because it’s free? Would you stay, even when there are hints of unrest? And more important, how much of your life would you give up for a stranger?

Clever me, I went on holiday somewhere different. That season in Nigeria, there was an oil war. Andrew and I hadn’t known. The struggle was brief, confused, and scarcely reported. The British and Nigerian governments both deny to this day that it even took place. God knows, they aren’t the only ones who tried denial.

I don’t like that a male wrote this story. When he is most effective, is when his author’s voice is clearly coming through the words of Little Bee. I think a female writer would have better understood the dynamics of the girl and the woman in this story and I think the ending may have had more of a punch. Perhaps the males in the story would have been more that props.

What is this story about? This is the story of Little Bee and of Sarah. It is the story of not being able to see the trees for the forest, which for some means not seeing the present for focusing on the future and for others it means not seeing the future for focusing on the present. Little Bee, Sarah and Andrew, Sarah’s husband had previously met on a beach in Nigeria. This encounter was rather horrific and eventually resulted in Little Bee leaving Nigeria and illegally entering Great Britain. The story is told in Sarah and Little Bee’s alternating voices.  Little Bee often explains to the girls back home things like coffee tables, wooden floors and going topless. These interludes help paint the difference between life in developed countries and developing. Sarah is struggling to find direction for the magazine she created and to maintain her identity after the death of her husband. They need to save each other from what the other hand didn’t do.

While this story takes place in Nigeria during a war, it is completely fiction. I don’t think the story is meant to make us aware of what goes on in Nigeria as much as it is meant to make us aware of our role in what goes on in Nigeria. What do you know about Nigeria? How much are you willing to give up for a stranger?

Disclaimer: I received this book through BookMooch



One thought on “review: The Other Hand

  1. How fascinating – I find your critique very insightful. and I have to admit, I know very littel really about Nigeria.

    Intersting too about the title change. Why do they do this?!? It certainloy happens the other way across the Atlantic too – Deborah Ellis’ eloquent title I Am a Taxi became The Prison Runner in the UK… very banal!


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