Thank you, Touchstone Books, for this copy of The History of Bees by Maja Lunde. All thoughts and images are my own.
Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)
In the spirit of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, The History of Bees is a dazzling and ambitious literary debut that follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future to weave a powerful story about the fate of our planet and the world-changing potential of each family.
England, 1852: On the edge of self-destruction, seed merchant and biologist William is roused from despair by one of his children, who inspires him to invent a new type of beehive that will bring his family the honor and fame they deserve.
USA, 2007: George, a beekeeper in Ohio, has proudly preserved the traditions passed down from one generation of beekeeper to the next even as he fights an uphill battle against modern farming. He hopes that his stubborn and rebellious son, Tom, will be their bee farm’s salvation, but the new ideas Tom encounters in college fuel his father’s deepest fears.
China, 2098: Working as a hand pollinator in a time when bees have all disappeared, Tao thinks only of how to give her son a better future. But when he is mysteriously taken away by the authorities following a terrible accident, she journeys to the heart of Beijing to find out what happened to him, no matter the cost.
It’s always a little unfair to be the next book after a great book. I was so completely in love with The Heart’s Invisible Furies that I was instantly more critical of The History of Bees. This book switches between the three different perspectives far too quickly and suffers from one of the pitfalls of writing from multiple points of view: one perspective is far more interesting than the other two. Tao is not only the most interesting narrator, her story also has the highest stakes. In the beginning, I was reading just for her. Not only that, I found neither William nor George endearing. Their wives/daughters were more interesting than they were but were given far less attention.
However, my perspective began to change as I became more invested in the well-being of the bees. Suddenly, I was hooked on this book and could not put it down. I was reading in Riverside Park last night and looked up at one point to realize the sun had set, the streetlights were on, and the park was nearly empty. I was invested more in each plot line as I realized how they all wove together. I needed to know what had happened to lead us to this point of desolation in 2098 and how (or if) it could ever be resolved.
The ending is completely gratifying and extremely touching. This book is a beautiful lesson of how the actions of people separated by time and place can have an effect on one another. If there’s anything I took away from watching all of midtown Manhattan head outside to watch the eclipse yesterday, it’s that we are all in this together. This is our world, so we need to treat it wisely. It’s more delicate than we might expect.
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