Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Other Hand -- by Chris Cleave

As my usual habit I turned the book around to read about the plot. And this is what it said : “We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.”  So intrigued was I to immediately open the book and start reading. (Curiosity always got the better of me. ALWAYS!!) Anyways, the first thought after reading that line was, ‘so much ego and pride in your story that you just don't want to reveal even one bit of it or is it that bad that you had to use this cheap marketing gimmick to at least sell the book, now that it’s published!!’ So with the hurt ego of the reader I started reading. And trust me, the publisher meant every word when he said that this book is magical. It kept me awake and engrossed till the very last sentence.

Every reader has been particularly requested by the publisher not to tell the story, as it would take out the essence of the story. But I believe it wasn't the story that was very different but the narration of the story that did the trick. The book is a perfect narration of a scary gripping world seen through the eyes of an African immigrant who tries to learn British ways and her innocent interpretations of the world seen by her, a scared black teen on the run; and through the eyes of a well to-do British working woman who has skeletons in her closet which she has to deal with on a daily basis.
This is a book which proves that grass may not always be greener on the other side. Chris has so cleverly alternated, in an unbiased manner, the story of the two women. It’s a very simple story with an even yet simple but mystifying topic-- the good and the bad. Good and bad that is present in the world. Also the good or bad that thrives within every person. A variety of views of different people of different age groups with different situations to handle. Whatever the views and situations, in the end everyone is one the same journey, journey which includes fighting the 'baddies' (in the words of Sarah’s son). The 4 year old Charlie’s only mission in life that time is to fight all those whom he thinks is a 'baddie' and he gathers the strength to do so from the batman suits he wears.
Respecting the publisher’s wish to keep the plot a secret I’ll only reveal the basic idea of what the book is about. It’s about Little Bee who is detained in UK due to illegal immigration. Her side of the story highlights how she plans to deal if someone tries to hurt her, search 4 a British couple whom she met on a beautiful beach on a horrific day. She thinks the key to her happy life lies with that couple. How she meets that couple and what happens after is what is best left for the readers to find out. On the other hand, (as aptly suggested by the title) is the story of Sarah, the fairer sex of the couple whom Little Bee is in search of. For the world she might be the hot shot professional who’s happily married and blessed with an adorable son. Scratch the 'picture perfect' image and you’ll find an equally hassled woman whose very trouble is how to save her marriage and protect her son from the bad world. She’s trying to erase one certain memory of the day where she met two beautiful black sisters on a beautiful beach on a horrific day. What is she guilty of and what completely changed her life and what she does to amend her mistakes makes up Sarah’s side of the story.
The book grips you from the first line where Little Bee wishes to be a British pound coin instead of an African girl, till the climax where she's just thankful for what she had in her short horror-filled life. There are times you will find yourself (un)comfortably entangled in the story. I wondered why only one word had been used by various readers to describe this fine book .Now I understood why. I seem to have forgotten all the vocabulary I somehow managed to accumulate all these years. It’s just impossible to form a decent sentence or put together a suitable collection of words to describe what I felt after reading this book. The fact that this might be a true story (Chris said in an interview that the character of Little Bee was inspired from the many African girls he met and saw when he was gathering facts for this book) disturbed me so much that I actually felt like joining Sarah in her endeavour to help Little Bee.  The book doesn’t disappoint you at all. It has its own share of surprises. It has a perfect blend of horror (beach scene), innocence (Little Bee's interpretations of British culture and way of living), cuteness (Charlie), hatred (soldiers, government which is sometimes synonymous with hatred, deceit, and false organization), humanity (farmers in the initial chapters and later on Sarah), fear, helplessness, desperation and love. U can feel all of this and live every emotion through this book. It’s not a very complicated story with complicated characters and lives. It’s a story with regular characters. Story of a difficult life. Of death. Of wanting to be a part of some ‘other side’. It’s a heart-wrenching story of how each character i.e., Little Bee, Sarah, Charlie deal with these issues. Three people. Three age groups. Three perspectives. This is a story you don't want to see yourself in or even want to relate to but it’s a story you would want to read and do something about it. You don't want the story to end. The story of, I don’t know how many girls, who's only wish is to live and we as common people can't help but just be spectators as we watch that innocent wish being mercilessly stamped by the selfish and silly motives of people with power. So disturbing and disgusting to see money taking place of lives.
There are some very powerful lines cleverly thrown in between. (I’ve been trying to write what effect these lines have on the reader but in vain. I guess the readers will find out on their own. All I can say is these lines will leave you with goose bumps.) The last few pages are mind-blowing. It is where the action is. If u find it a little boring and slow initially, just have a little patience. You won’t regret.  The climax will surely leave you with so many thoughts and emotions. Mixed feelings will grip you tight and leave you wondering about a lot of things which otherwise conveniently escape our minds. Chris deceptively got into the skin of both the ladies and weaved an amazing tragic tale. The ironic ending perfectly seals off this appalling yet delicate story.
All in all it’s a book you just can't afford to miss.

P.S : This book is known as Little Bee is the US.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Its one of the best books I have ever read!