Friday, April 24, 2009

Little Bee lacks authenticity

over the easter long weekend, i read the book Little Bee by Chris Cleave. the subject matter, a nigerian asylum seeker struggles in the uk, would be intimately interesting to me considering my work in migration, my life in the uk, and my general love for things african and/or refugee.

and it was a good story, drawing attention to the struggles in nigeria over rights to oil deposits and the challenge to survive in migrant detention centres and in a foreign society with little to no resources.

however, i am not so sure that the author is deserving of the accolades for this book (shortlisted for the costa award for best novel in the uk) because i think it overly simplifies the storyline and its characters. someone gets their finger chopped off on a beach whilst vacationing in nigeria with their husband and then runs from the rebels back to their compound? i am not saying that it could never happen, but just throwing an incident into the story and not digging deeper left the story a little flat for me.

there is an interesting interview with the author where i think he makes a better case for bringing the issues of detaining irregular (not illegal) migrants indefinitely and in inhumane conditions to the public than he does in his book and is worth a read.

although even in this interview he completely misuses the words refugee and asylum seeker and although i realise that to most people, the differences are moot, if you are going to write an entire novel on the topic, you should get the terminology correct. the main character, little bee, is not a refugee and is instead an asylum seeker. asylum seekers are not inherently victims of anything, hence the word 'seeker' included in the phrase. they are asking to be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds, but have not been given formal leave to do so yet.

i took slight offence to the assumption that little bee could not return to nigeria and that the british system would detain an unaccompanied minor in her situation. i am not saying these things do not happen, but i do know there are many programmes for unaccompanied minors and there are guidelines on how to handle such cases. in fact, i was involved in one such case of unaccompanied kenyan children in europe and they were not detained, not mistreated, and not forced to go anywhere that was unsafe. (but i get that this happens, i just wish there had been more information given to make the issues clear).

there are literally thousands of stories that could be told about migrants' experiences in the uk and i would most likely purchase and read any of them that are published, but i suppose i have pretty high expectations of authors who wish to tackle such an issue so personal to me. unfortunately, this book did not meet those expectations.

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