I finally found this novel in my library under its UK title "The Other Hand". I read it in one day, unable to put it down until I found out what happened to Little Bee, the young Nigerian girl who is seeking asylum in Britain.
Little Bee's story is heartbreaking. We have an asylum center not far from us here in Belgium, and it is regularly in the news - and it is such a shame that we are unable to figure out how to help the people who come to Europe seeking a better life. It often makes me think of the European immigrants who went to North America at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, who were seeking the exact same thing - hope for a better life. I always think that none of them would have undertaken the journey and the suffering that in itself entails, if their situation in their home country wasn't truly desperate.
Little Bee was also in a desperate situation and did what she had to to save her life. She is an amazing heroic character. I found myself disliking the character Sarah, the English woman who tries to help Little Bee. Even more than that, I hated her lover, Lawrence. At a key moment, when Sarah unthinkingly asks Little Bee to phone the police when her son is missing, Lawrence is instantly aware of the consequences this will have for Little Bee and he fails to step in. He could have so easily made the phone call in her place, and he did nothing.
This novel is eye-opening and confrontational for those of us who live easy lives in countries that attract refugees and asylum seekers. Are we like Sarah, naive and unaware, or like Lawrence, aware but unwilling to do anything?