Originally published in Norwegian in 2015, The History Of Bees is a book I had had my eye on for a while. What intrigued me the most was that in this, Maja Lunde’s debut novel for adults; we are treated to not one story, but three…
The story alternates between three different periods of time from nineteenth century England, through to modern day USA and to a dystopian future in China. Over the course of the novel we hear the perspectives of three central characters with chapters switching between them, their individual stories woven together. The first character we meet is Tao, a woman who in a world where bees have long since disappeared is forced to carry out a laborious pollination process. Tao’s life is thrown into further disarray when her young son is taken away by the authorities which immediately raises questions as to why he has been taken, and if Tao can get him back. Almost a century earlier we meet George, a beekeeper in the United States who is struggling to make ends meet in the face of modern farming methods. George lives in hope that his son will help him revive the family business. And then there is William, who in England in the 1850’s is trying to develop a new type of beehive, one which will bring him and his large family fame and fortune. I was drawn into each of their stories and keen to see how they would develop. And what I was most excited to see was how the lives of people living in different times and different places are linked together.
As its title suggests The History Of Bees provides fascinating insight into the workings of bees and their impact on human lives and the environment in which we live. And for Tao, William and George beekeeping is an important aspect of their and their families’ stories. We see how they rely on the bees for their livelihoods, how they learn to utilise the bees to their advantage, and in Tao’s case how the absence of bees has led to a frightening vision of the future. But whilst the bees are key to the story, there is much more to this novel. The main characters are also all parents and this novel explores the relationships between parent and child, and the hopes and expectations that we have of our children. In the case of William, father to eight children, we see his troubled relationship with his eldest child, a son who he hopes will assist in the family business. George too has aspirations of his son being his salvation, but his son has other priorities on his mind. Then there is Tao, and a mother’s desperation to be reunited with her child. I enjoyed learning more about each family and really liked the alternating chapters. The chapters themselves were relatively short and each once left me eager to find out what would happen next as it switches back and forth through time as the collective stories unfold. The themes in this novel made for a thought provoking read, and it made me ponder our own relationship with the world around us, and how humans take the nature that surrounds us for granted. I also found the information about the bees informative, and I learnt a few things about them along the way, including how easily their demise can impact an individual, a community, and a world.
I really enjoyed The History Of Bees and found it to be a wonderfully written story which provides valuable insight on the life of a beekeeper, and the strength of the bonds between their families.