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The Other Hand - By Chris Cleave (Scepter)

Last update - Friday, April 15, 2011, 21:12 By Metro Éireann

The Other Hand begins with Little Bee, a 14-year-old Nigerian from an oil-producing village in the Delta Region who witnesses the burning of her village and the killing of her parents during some undefined conflict.

In the company of her elder sister Nkiruka, she flees her village for the city, knowing that having seen what happened, they will be the next targets. When their assailants finally track them down on the beach, they take refuge behind a British journalist couple, Sarah and Andrew, who happen to be holidaying there at the time. What happens next sparks of a chain of events that tackle the hot-button issues around asylum seeking.
The Other Hand is Chris Cleaves’ second novel, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Novel Award. It has been variously applauded for being “searingly eloquent” and “a powerful piece of art… shocking, exciting and deeply affecting.”
For me, I think Cleave does a good job of touching on the emotive plights of asylum seekers. Cleave is fearless in his exposing of the lies behind the façade of the asylum experience in general, and he never shies away from the bitter ironies and absurdities that prop up the walls between the west and the developing world. The voices of the characters are also well positioned to pierce our moral fibre, while the storyline’s straightforward appearance hides the twists and turns that will ensure the reader will find it hard to put down till the last page is turned.
However, the great strength of this work for me is in showing how the power of the strong springs from the sapping of the weak, and how in the frenzy to exploit – for wealth, for power – the Little Bees of this world will always be flattened in the stampede.

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