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Day of the Bees Hardcover – May 9, 2000

2.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The narrator of Thomas Sanchez's fourth novel teaches art history in America, but he dreams of Europe--or more specifically, of Spain. The Professor (as he identifies himself) specializes in a Spanish painter of the 1940s, Francisco Zermano, to whom he has devoted a spate of scholarly articles. He also spends hours staring at the man's paintings, trying to imagine the stories behind them. This iconographic detective is particularly curious about one bit of recurrent imagery: the body of a beautiful woman, which is rumored to belong to Louise Collard, the painter's muse.

As Day of the Bees opens, in fact, Louise has just died alone in a small provincial village, and the Professor rushes to France to learn more about her role in Zermano's life. There he finds a pile of correspondence--and a revelation. According to legend, the artist treated Louise cruelly and abandoned her. Yet the letters reveal a deep and doomed love, one which is forever shattered when Louise is raped by a platoon of enemy soldiers (whom she later describes in her letters as "bees," a wonderfully eerie motif). Zermano, already beaten with a tire iron, is forced to watch the entire event. Here Louise recalls how the rape ruined her life, and its paradoxical resemblance to the redemption of true erotic love:

I have discovered something unnerving--that a woman in sexual ecstasy with her man forgets all detail; when it's over she wants to return and explore this abyss that still makes her tremble. The same thing can happen when she is raped, but for a different reason. Where joy once deleted memory, horror now destroys it. In two acts in her life can a woman lose all consciousness: in the act of lovemaking, and in rape, its cruel parody.
After discovering Louise's letters, many of them never sent, the Professor embarks on a search for the aging Zermano, hoping to help set the record straight. In these chapters, the violent and tragic love story at the heart of Day of the Bees is nicely counterbalanced by an obsessive academic's comedy of errors. Like most of his kind, the narrator is late for trains, professorial to the bitter end, and devoted to (in every sense of the word) ghosts. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

Sanchez has done notable work (Rabbit Boss and Mile High), but this novel about a world-famous painter and his love blighted by war is not quite thought through. For a start, much of it is told in epistolary form, which is always tricky to manage, since a novelist's gifts of narration, here employed at full stretch, are profoundly different from what anyone would be likely to write in a letter. Then, too, the machinery of having an art history professor unearth the letters and tell the story through them is overly familiar, so that although there are moments of genuine power in Sanchez's tale, it feels for much of its course labored and manufactured. Francisco Zermano, a dynamic Spanish-born painter (rather obviously modeled on Picasso, even down to his colossal American car), has a French lover, Louise. When the Nazis invade France, the pair are separated, Louise burying herself in Vichy France and eventually becoming deeply involved in the Resistance, Zermano in uneasy exile from her in occupied Paris. Most of the story is told in a series of Louise's (unposted) letters to him, describing their early days together, a horrific encounter with a German officer who raped her after shattering Zermano's knees, and then her pregnancy, her wartime sufferings and heroism, the loss of her baby and her eternal, death-transcending love for the painter. Finally, the narrator who found her letters takes them to the great man's solitary exile in Mallorca and has his daughter read them to him. After one more revelation, the story ends on a wistful note. Sanchez evokes the immemorial Proven?al landscape exquisitely, and some of the mutual passion of Louise and Zermano comes across powerfully, but the Resistance scenes and the mysterious beekeeper who gives the book part of its title are melodramatic in concept and execution.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375401628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375401626
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,423,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a university English professor so I have spent a great part of my life reading works of literature. Day of the Bees is one of the most astonishingly complex and beautiful works I've read. The declaration of this book is: all praise to sovereign passion--no novel since Wuthering Heights has done it better. Thomas Sanchez has dared to change his style and cross literary genres. He creates a mythic tale of an artist and his muse, involved in a devouring eroticism. This book transcends all expectations and demolishes the notion that romance can't thrive in the modern literary novel. I read that it took the author ten years to write this book and I give him all of my praise for a difficult job well done. This book is both literary and entertaining and I recommend it highly.
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By A Customer on February 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A sweeping tale of passionate love set during the turbulent events of WW2 and spanning 50 years.
Zermano world renowned Spanish painter and his beautiful French lover Louise Collard were separated during the Nazi occupation of France. The world thought Zermano had tired of Louise, she who had once fired his inspiration for his paintings and his lust. In the end it was Louise who left the legacy and Louise who led the way. After her death intimate letters written by her to Zermano, but never posted were accidentally found. They recount the period during the war when she and Zermano were separated, when unspeakable horrors and cruelties abounded in war torn Europe.
Passionate, beautifully written letters describe the love between Zermano and Louise and recount Louise's life during their enforced separation.
This is not a soppy love story, but a powerfully, deeply moving and well written historical tale of two tragic lovers, touched with passion, politics and art. A wonderful book I didn't want it to end and which I highly recommend.
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By A Customer on November 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As this novel opens, Louise Collard, reputedly the famous model and lover of the great Spanish painter Francisco Zermano, has died in a small Provencal town. Lured by the promise of an auction of Louise's own private collection of Zermanos, and even more by curiosity about the reclusive Louise herself, the art world descends en masse on Provence.
Day of the Bess is narrated by an American art history professor who has devoted much of his professional life to the study of Zermano. Arriving in France, the narrator hopes to find a clue that will help him unravel the mystery of Louise and Zermano since it appears as though this once-beautiful woman was cruelly abandoned by the man who had loved her so passionately in the countryside of occupied France during World War II.
The Professor (as he is always identified) arrives at Louise's remote country home long after the auction is concluded (yes, he does possess the stereotypical absent-mind) only to be told that nothing remains but a few worthless knitting baskets. The professor, apparently believing that something is better than nothing, gladly accepts them.
The baskets, however, contain something more interesting than any painting could ever be and something that is, perhaps, even more valuable. Concealed in a secret opening are bundles of letters written by Zermano to Louise, as well as letters from Louise to Zermano that had never been sent. The beautiful and enigmatic Louise apparently had not been quite as abandoned by her lover as the public seems to have thought and, as the professor reads the lovers' pained and passionate words he begins to piece together the mystery of their relationship.
Day of the Bees is a story told through the letters of these doomed lovers, set against the backdrop of war-torn France.
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Format: Paperback
If you are not a 100% true romantic in heart, skip this book. If you have longed for someone, for something that is greater than yourself once in your life, you will probably enjoy this highly dramatic and erotic book. I am a big fan about letters and romance, and I think the writing is exquisitely beautiful. Though, at times I find this book too slow and too outrageous for readers like me to accept. However, I greatly appreciate the writer's effort of offering a magical, somewhat out-of-ordinary love story to our almost too ordinary lives.
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By A Customer on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
I've become disenchanted with American's views on literature after reading the other reviews.
This book is a comedy -- a masterful comedy, with tons of wit. If you can read with a light heart and an open mind, you will experience one of the richest novels you have ever cracked open. The author is brilliant and rare among contemporary writers in writing something that is not a screenplay, but an enjoyable read. This book is an experience in itself. Don't miss the opportunity to enjoy an American writer who will be remembered as one of our best.
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Format: Hardcover
As a tremendous fan of Sanchez's previous books ("Mile Zero" is one of the best novels I've ever read), I was stunned by how bad this book is. This novel is incredibly overwrought and overwritten; at some points you feel like the author may be trying to parody the historical romance genre. While the plot is a strong one (there are some similarities to "Corelli's Mandolin) and the idea of a Picasso-like painter and his mistress seems as if it would work well, Sanchez can't pull it off (despite trying hard... painfully so). Perhaps this was his attempt to write something that might become an "English Patient" type film... as someone who really admires the author's previous work, I can only hope that "Day of the Bees" is an aberration.
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