Sunday, June 13, 2010

Little Bee (2008)

This short but powerful book by Chris Cleave is about two women, one middle-aged, one young; one white, one black; one educated, one self-educated; one English, one Nigerian; one free, the other not. The chapters alternate between the two of them as their stories converge, separate, and converge again.

It is a short enough book that giving facts about the plot would give up too much of it. Here is an excerpt from the book:

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 desappears, 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.

Two cultures come together and try to help each other as they are able, not enough for either in the end. I highly recommend this book.

My rating for this book: ++++

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Most of us walk around all day unaware of the stories of others around us. We have no idea who they are or how their lives intersect with ours. Colum McCann wrote this book about a small group of people whose lives intersect on one auspicious day - the day Philippe Petit pulled an amazing stunt. He and a group of friends stretched a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center and tightwalked 140 ft., 1368 ft. above New York City. Most of the characters of this book were unaware of the feat but were involved in the momentous (or not) events of their own lives.

One of the people we meet is Claire, a mother who is suffering the death of her son in Viet Nam. She is hosting a meeting of other mothers who have lost their sons in Viet Nam that morning and they arrive with the news of Petit's escapade in progress.

But death by tightrope?
Death by performance?
That's what it amounted to. So flagrant with his body. Making it cheap. The puppetry of it all. His little Charlie Chaplin walk, coming in like a hack on her morning. How dare he do that with his own body? Throwing his life in everyone's face? Making her own son's so cheap? Yes, he has intruded on her coffee morning like a hack on her code. With his hijinks above the city. Coffee and cookies and a man out there walking in the sky, munching away what should have been.

(This excerpt follows one of those paragraphs that takes your breath away in its passion.)

Her husband, Judge Soderberg, sits in an arraignment court and gets the case of the tightrope walker to decide which charges he will face.

The theater began shortly after lunch. His fellow judges and court officers and reporters and even the stenographers were already talking about it as if it were another of those things that just happened in the city. One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.

This book felt so intimate in the way it portrayed a handful of citizens in a city that can feel so impersonal. The character portrayals pulled me in so deeply I felt like I could hear the ambient city noise, smell the odors, and feel the pain of the characters. It was truly moving.

I highly recommend this book. My rating for this boo: +++++