Chapter 1 Summary

"Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl" is the intriguing first sentence of Chris Cleave's best-selling novel Little Bee. As Little Bee, the eponymous heroine, explains, money can buy one all sorts of freedoms, both tangible and intangible. For example, a coin can travel easily. A coin can buy a person power and prestige. It can even perform magic tricks by transforming itself entirely, from the form of one solid thing, a coin, into two pliable things, like American dollar bills.

Little Bee studies the coin further and ponders the stern face of Queen Elizabeth II on its face. She imagines that if the coin could speak, it would have the same voice as its queen: insistent, authoritative, and full-bodied. Little Bee decides that she must have the freedom that money can give her and the authority of voice to command that freedom. She decides to abandon her native Nigerian English way of speaking and adopt the voice and manner of the Queen's English.

For two years, while being held in the Immigration Detention Center in London, Little Bee practices the "proper" way of speaking. She knows that being well spoken greatly increases her chances of not getting repatriated. Little Bee has often witnessed other women who are silent or do not speak well have their paperwork go missing or suddenly have errors. Those girls are often sent back to the horrific conditions in their home countries to face rape, torture, jail, and even death.

While Little Bee works hard at her speech, her appearance is a different story. She fears sexual abuse, so common in the detention center, so she wears baggy clothing and tapes her breasts down. The only small luxury she affords to her femininity is painting her toenails red, but the only person to see this flash of passion is Little Bee herself.

One day, Little Bee and several other women are called to be released. None of them knows what has...

(The entire section is 582 words.)