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The History of Bees: A Novel Hardcover – August 22, 2017
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"The History of Bees is spectacular and deeply moving. Lunde has elegantly woven together a tale of science and science fiction, dystopia and hope, and the trials of the individual and the strengths of family." (Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE and SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN)
“When you think of coming to tears over a novel, a story about bee keepers and honey is not your first thought. But such is the genius of debut novelist Maja Lunde that her tale of three eras—the long past, the tenuous present and the biologically damned future—is strung on the fragile hope of the survival of bees. Without ever banging an apocalyptic drum, Lunde paints an achingly pure picture of what happens if we fail to protect the bees, our biospheric conscience, our fragile, sacred spinners of gold.” (Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author of THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN and TWO IF BY SEA)
“As a lover of honeybees and a fan of speculative fiction, I was doubly smitten by The History of Bees. Maja Lunde’s novel is an urgent reminder of how much our survival depends on those remarkable insects. It is also a gripping account of how—despite the cruelest losses—humanity may abide and individual families can heal.” (Jean Hegland, author of STILL TIME and INTO THE FOREST)
“By turns devastating and hopeful, The History of Bees resonates powerfully with our most pressing environmental concerns. Following three separate but interconnected timelines, Lunde shows us the past, the present, and a terrifying future in a riveting story as complex as a honeycomb.” (Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author of ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS)
"I once sat sheltered while a swarm of bees the size of a house flew over me. I wish readers this same cone of isolated, humming space when they read Maja Lunde’s fine novel The History of Bees. Here is a story that is sweeping in scope but intimate in detail. Stepping lightly between a 19th century British naturalist, a contemporary Ohio bee farmer, and a determined mother in a dystopian future China, Lunde dares to imagine the chaos our rapidly changing world invites, while finding order and hope in individual acts of care." (Laura McBride, author of 'ROUND MIDNIGHT and WE ARE CALLED TO RISE)
“Imagine The Leftovers, but with honey.” (Elle)
“Lunde, a Norwegian author and screenwriter, threads a common string through these characters. The novel becomes far less about bees than about family — about how the relationship between parent and child can be passionate, desperate, tragic and uplifting….The History of Bees is a dark read, and yet it ends on a wavering note of optimism. It’s been likened to Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 sci-fi novel Station Eleven, with good reason." (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
“This book is about bees the same way Moby-Dick is a book about whales or The Moviegoer is about movies…..[The History of Bees] is reminiscent of the 1998 art film The Red Violin, in that it weaves together three fairly disparate stories spread across the better part of two and a half centuries. At the outset, the connections between the three are opaque, but Lunde’s compelling narrative draws the reader in. Much as in Ray Bradbury’s famed story “A Sound of Thunder,” the “butterfly effect” is in full effect, as decisions made long ago and far away influence outcomes in unpredictable but realistic ways.” (BookPage)
About the Author
Maja Lunde is a Norwegian author and screenwriter. Lunde has written ten books for children and young adults. She has also written scripts for Norwegian television, including for the children’s series Barnas supershow (“The Children’s Super Show”), the drama series Hjem (“Home”) and the comedy series Side om Side (“Side by Side”). The History of Bees is her first novel for adults. She lives with her husband and three children in Oslo.
Top customer reviews
In 1851 William Savage is a biologist and seed merchant in England. After an agonizing bout of depression that left him bedridden for months, his passion for research returns. He becomes obsessed with building the perfect beehive, one that will benefit the bees and his family for generations. Mainly, William is focused on his son Edmund's education to prepare to take over his life's work.
In 2007 George is a beekeeper in Ohio whose ancestry is traced back to a long lineage of beekeepers. He still makes his hives by hand according to the dimensions passed down through the generations and recorded on old yellowed diagrams his wife Emma found in an old trunk and framed. His whole family has the detailed instructions to build their unique hives memorized. George and Emma sacrificed and saved for years to send their son Tom to college so he could return with new ideas to keep the family business going.
In 2098, Tao is a pollinator in China. The bees have long since disappeared. She climbs the pear trees daily along with the many other workers and painstakingly hand pollinates each flower with a specially developed feather brush. Tao spends her precious free time trying to teach her three-year-old son Wei-Wen hoping that he will be chosen to be further educated. Otherwise in five years, at the age of eight, he will be done with school and sent into the fields to begin helping with the hand pollination. When Wei-Wen has an accident and is taken away to the hospital, Tao is desperate to find him.
While The History of Bees is about our dependence on bees and the devastation that would occur with their disappearance, the main theme is really the bond between parent and child - more specifically the desire of parents wanting their sons to take over their passions and the sons wanting no part of it. It is the story of the bees that ostensibly ties these three narratives together, but the stories are really about the expectations of individual families. Ultimately Tao's story will provide the thread that will truly tie the three narratives together.
I read the English translation of The History of Bees, which was originally published in Norwegian. While I'm sure the translation was very good, the voices of George and Tao almost seemed a little simplistic at times. Since this is Lunde's first book for adults, that may explain it. William is a decidedly annoying character. Certainly, however, she did an excellent job making their three different voiced separate and distinct and mixing historical fiction, present day, and future dystopian narratives into one coherent novel.
I had two problems with The History of Bees. First, the narratives do meander off course at times, which slows the actual flow of the novel down a bit. Secondly, the distracting focus on sons taking over in all three time periods might have been alleviated with a daughter written in as one of the offspring for which the parents had expectations, or, if all main characters were fathers with expectations for their sons. In William's time period the sexism makes sense, although ultimately it is a daughter who cares about his work. Certainly both George and Tao could have had daughters without damaging the flow of the story. (This doesn't seem to concern other reviewers, so it may just be me.)
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Touchstone.
I absolutely loved this book. Each of the three stories touched my heart. The chapters are short and I would no sooner get pulled into one story than the author would switch to one of the other stories so there are often cliffhangers. I was never disappointed to switch as I found each of the stories as fascinating as the other. This style of writing really moved the book along and kept me wanting to know more. This Norwegian author cleverly maps out this beautifully written book so that each of the stories have a final connection.
Bees. Such little creatures but so very important to our existence. Our world has seen what might happen should bees disappear completely. The author has provided a fascinating look at the beginning of bee keeping, the period when bee colonies first started encountering difficulties and what the future might look like without hard working bees. Even more than a study of bees told in a very moving way, this book also touchingly delves into the bond of parents and their children.
Most highly recommended.
This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
What all three of these characters have in common is the inability to communicate basic human emotions, and seeing their children not as human beings, but as ideal versions of themselves. Tao is the most sympathetic of these characters, since she’s only allowed an hour a day with her son. With such a short amount of time, it’s impossible to really get to know your child. But George and William have no excuse, and come across as idiots much of the time. And of course they have bees in common, but the bees end up more of a set piece to these characters.
I originally picked this up expecting something more along the lines of The Bees by Laline Paull, especially with it being compared to Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go. What I found instead read more like a family drama. Which is fine, it just didn’t meet my expectations.
I also feel like the translation might have made it a clunkier read. Here’s an example: “The yellow color was completely real, nothing I was imagining. It came from the brocade tapestry my wife, Thilda, had stuck up on the walls when we moved in a few years ago. We’d had a lot of space at that time.”
Okay, there’s nothing wrong here, but it’s not very engaging or inspiring prose.
Despite these reservations, I did like the concept of weaving three stories together to tell the history of bees.
Thanks to Touchstone and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Most recent customer reviews
This story is told from three exceedingly different views.Read more