Cleave, Chris. Little Bee (Simon and Schuster, 2009).
The publishers of Chris Cleave's new novel "don't want to spoil" the story by revealing too much about it, and there's good reason not to tell too much about the plot's pivot point. All you should know going in to Little Bee is that what happens on the beach is brutal, and that it braids the fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple--journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday--who should have stayed behind their resort's walls. The tide of that event carries Little Bee back to their world, which she claims she couldn't explain to the girls from her village because they'd have no context for its abundance and calm. But she shows us the infinite rifts in a globalized world, where any distance can be crossed in a day--with the right papers--and "no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2." Where you have to give up the safety you'd assumed as your birthright if you decide to save the girl gazing at you through razor wire, left to the wolves of a failing state.
Ugandan author Kyomuhendo's unsettling and richly atmospheric U.S. debut illustrates the terrible plight of a family struggling to survive the last months of Idi Amin's brutal dictatorship in 1979. Terrorized by Amin's soldiers fleeing Tanzanian forces allied with anti-Amin Ugandans, 13-year old Alinda hides out with her family on a farm in the western town of Hoima. Her postal clerk father snatches news of the invading soldiers from the city, while eldest son Tendo serves as a semi-reliable lookout. Grandmother Kaaka, younger daughter Maya, and other neighbors sharing the hideout, along with Alinda's pregnant mother, who goes into labor just as the soldiers arrive. Although the baby miraculously survives, Alinda's mother is killed, and Alinda must cook and care for the smaller children. Difficulties arise as brother Tendo runs off to join the "Liberators," and Alinda's female friend, Jungu, an outcast child of mixed Indian and black heritage, falls in love with a Tanzanian solider and aims to become the first female member of the army. The book, however, is less about plot than Kyomuhendo's strong portrayals of characters such as Uncle Kembo, who returns to recant his mercenary conversation to Islam, and the so-called Lendu woman, a Zairian foreigner considered a witch because of her knowledge of healing herbs. Kyomuhendo delineates the strife of her war-torn country with vivid, unflinching verve.