Monday, November 6, 2017

The History of Bees

Title:  The History of Bees
Author:  Maja Lunde
Publication Information:  Touchstone. 2017. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1501161377 / 978-1501161377

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Like oversized birds, we balanced on our respective branches, each of us with a plastic container in one hand and a feather brush in the other."

Favorite Quote:  "But first and foremost the knowledge made me richer. Richer than the other children. I was not beautiful, not athletic, not good with my hands or strong. I could not excel in any other fields. In the mirror an awkward girl stared back at me. The eyes were a little too small, the nose a little too big. The ordinary face revealed nothing about what she was carrying - something golden, something that made every single day worth living. And that could be a means of getting away."

Three time periods. Three parents and their children. Three families and their struggle for survival. And the bees or the lack of bees.

Years ago, I read A Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. A few years ago, I read a book titled The Bees by Laline Paull. Recently, environmental news has been full of articles about bees dying and the devastating effects that could have on our world. All of this reading has left an impact. So, when I saw a book titles The History of Bees, I flew at the chance to read it.

This book is fiction, of course. It is and is not a history of bees. Most of the book is like reading three independent stories in three completing different time periods and settings. What ties them together is the bees. In the 1850s in England, there is William, a biologist and a man who is trying unsuccessfully to make his mark on science. In 2007 in the United States, there is George, a beekeeper who is trying to keep his family business going in the face of economic, environmental, and familial adversity. In 2098 in China, there is Tao, a human pollinator who does the work of bees and who would do anything for her only child Wei-Wen.

The book alternates between the three time and three points of view. At the beginning, that makes the book a challenge, keeping the time lines and characters straight and trying to guess at the link between the three. Soon, however, that ceases to matter as the stories take over. The progression is effectively handled so that when the conclusion and connections come full circle, it seems like a natural outcome.

Throughout the book, you know the stories connect and you know the connection is the bees, but the how and the why does not become clear until the "a-ha" moments until the end. However, that does not matter. The three stories themselves are engrossing with developed main characters that I feel for. The writing evokes vivid images of these three completely different worlds.

Of course, the book makes its environmental and political statement. With such a topic, I expect it. However, this book accomplishes that in a natural way within the context of the story rather than a moralistic statement that happens to be couched in a story.

The parallel and equally important theme in this book is the bond between parent and child. William is disappointed in his son Edward and for a long time, does not see the potential in his daughters, particularly Charlotte. George and his son Tom are somewhat estranged as Tom's dreams lead away from the family business and George cannot envision a future with no one to carry on the family legacy. Tao spends every waking moment thinking of how to give her toddler son a better life and a better shot at life, especially given the regimented dystopian society she lives in. The joys, sorrows, hopes, and disappointments of parenthood bring an emotional grounding to this story. They give the story its heart and make the environmental message a memorable one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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