The Other Hand
We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:
It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.
The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.
And it’s what happens afterwards that is most important.
Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.
I think I can probably give away a little more detail than the product descroption for this book allows, but to tell you too may undermine some of the power this story has. The Other Hand packs a serious punch with themes of asylum seekers, fidelity, death, oil, and love. It’s a story that entwines Nigeria and Kingston-upon-Thames in an unlikely, horrifying, but ulitmately redemptive way.
Everything that happens in this book can be traced back to a day on a beach. I won’t tell you any more than that, because I think the shock of the event is genuinely worth experiencing. Not because it’s especially graphic or over-the-top, but because it is probably not that outlandish an example of what humankind can do to one another; the worst face of humanity.
So that may be where the story begins, but the book starts with Little Bee, a 16-year-old girl who has just been released after two years in an immigration detention centre. It seems pretty clear that Chris Cleave has a thing or two he would like to say about the way in which we treat people who are likely to be fleeing from unimaginable situations, as if they were criminals. Little Bee has learned the Queen’s English with her two years incarceration and makes for an engaging narrator.
We are then introduced to Sarah, a magazine editor with a depressive husband who writes columns for The Times, and a small son who genuinely believes he is Batman.
The two narrative threads are suddenly joined together and Cleave then skilfully shows us how these stories are linked through an event neither has been able to leave behind.
I don’t mean to be cryptic, but the blurb told me not to tell you. Always obey the blurb!
This is not a long novel at all, so it is impressive how convincingly the characters are fleshed out. The novel doesn’t just settle for some good characters and an exciting plot twist though. It points the finger at human greed and cruelty, the blind eye of the Western world, and how we treat people coming to this country seeking asylum.
There’s plenty of humour interspersed throughout this book, so that in spite of some of the horrific things that Little Bee and Sarah have seen or done, this never becomes bleak. It left me, and may well leave you, pondering on the ethical dilemma put to one of the main characters on that day in the beach that ties this whole story together: Would you do it? Could you do it?