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The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

The Other Hand

Britain is proud of its traditionof providing  a safe haven for people fleeting (sic) persecution and conflict. – from Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship (UK Homes Office, 2005)

 The back cover came up with a corny marketing gimmicks, it says:

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. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buyit so we will just say this:

This is a story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there…

Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.

It also includes an introduction from the editor to say the book sit on the pedestral of Sceptre publications blah blah.. Corny right? That’s the first thing that came to mind when my colleague loan me the book. Soon after I was memerised by the writing of Chris Cleave:

Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the cornership instead. We would be happy, like lovers met on holiday and forgot each other’s name. Of course a pound coin can be serious too. It can disguise itself as power, property, and there is nothing more serious when you are girl who has neither. You must try to catch the pound, and trap it in your pocket, so that it cannot reach a safe country unless it takes you with it. But a pound has all the tricks of a sorcerer. When pursued I have seen it shed its tail like a lizard so that you are left holding only pence. And when you finally go to seize it, the British pound can perform the greatest magic of all, and this is to transform itself into not one, but two, identical green American dollar bills, Your fingers will close on empty air, I am telling you.

How I would love to be a British pound. A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. this the human triumph. This is called, globalisation.

The story is about a dissatisfied career woman, Sarah O’Rouke who is more comfortable retaining her maiden names Sarah Summer, decided to salvage her marriage as a result of her affairs with Lawrence, propose a beach vacation in Nigeria.

Within the first month, I’d known he wasn’t the right man. After that, it’s the growing sense of dissatisfaction that keeps one awake at night. The brain refusing to let go of those alternative lives that might have been.

At the beach, Sarah met Little Bee and sister Nkriruka running away from an army of soldiers who resorts to violence to annihilate the whole village so that they could gain control of oil fields. A horrible incident soon ensued as the soldiers caught up with the Nigerian girls and Sarah and Andrew. Sarah had to make a terrible decision (I was slow to figure out that it has to do with the Hand). Sarah and husband, Andrew returned to the UK with her husband Andrew, a different person.

It became complicated when one day Little Bee was released from the refugee retention centre after two year’s of detention and Andrew was the first one to know about this….. Arghh! Because the book made it sacrosanct that you must not disclose the plot, I am compelled to do the same, although I have no reason to do so. 

You have to love the characters enough to overlook the flaws in the plot. The ending is incredulous. You’d think someone like Sarah who had suffered enough atrocities will not put herself in the same situation again, oh no.

The flatscreen at our floor was running a segment on the war. Smoke was rising above one of the countries involved. Don’t ask me which – I’d lost track by the that stage. The war was four years old. It had started in the same motnh my son was born and the’d grown up together. At first both of them were a huge shock and demanded constant attention, but as each year went by, they became more autonomous and one could start to take one’s eye off them for extended periods. Sometimes a particular event would cause me momentarily to look at one or the other of them – my son, or the war – with my full attention, and at times like these I would always think, Gosh, haven’t you grown?

If the book aim to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and the moral implications and inadequacies of the system to determine the fate of refugees with a tick box to release or to deport, the book score a big point in this. Chris Cleave brilliant writing is a treat. The overall feeling I got from reading the book was a serious subject with a frivolous take. It’s a shame really, it could be so much better.

Chris CleaveVerdict: 3.5/5

What I like most about the book: Cleave ability to write in two female voices. An commendable attempt to amalgamate foreign affairs, with politics, parental love and marriage seamlessly. Successfully evoke shocks and fears.
What I like least about the book: The ending, Sarah’s extra-marital affairs, conversation/ dialogue a little too bizzare for a 16-year-old. Well it doesn’t matter what I say, Nicole Kidman was rumoured to play a part in the movie.

About the Writer:
Chris Cleave was born in London in 1973, brought up in Cameroon and Buckinghamshire, and educated at Balliol College, Oxford where he studied Psychology. He writes a column for The Guardian Newspaper in LondonHe lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and three children. The book has been shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Book Awards in the Novel category. It was released in the US and Canada in January 2009 under the title Little Bee, and will be adapted into a film starring Nicole Kidman by Blossom Films in association with BBC Films. See Chris Cleave’s blog .


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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