Monday, October 23, 2017

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

My interest in bees is fairly new. Up until about 3 years ago, my only reaction to bees was the painful memory of being stung in my ear by a bee as a kid, and how much it hurt! As I started to garden at my house, I would walk outside and notice the butterflies and bees flitting around my flowers, and I was happy--as long as they stayed away from me. 

That slight awareness of bees became an interest when I stumbled upon urban beekeeping articles as I was searching for a paper topic in grad school.  From then on, I was interested in bees, and horrified at the mysterious deaths that are sending our bee population into a nosedive.  All of that back history drove me to pick up this book at my library.  

This novel is told in three separate historical settings: William, a biologist in 1852 England,  George, a beekeeper in 2007 Ohio, and Tao, a human pollinator in 2098 China.  In Tao's world, the bees have disappeared; world population has plummeted due to food shortages (no bees=no food!), and she is part of a group of workers who climb fruit trees and hand pollinate in order to produce crops.  It's endless work; every day, back breaking work with little pay, and very little to eat.  Tao lives with her husband and young son, Wei-Wen in a little house near the fields.  She hopes for a better future for her son, but has no idea how to make that happen.  

William is in a deep depression.  A budding biologist, his hopes of studying and research ended when he married and had children.  His former mentor has dismissed William, and now he's spent months lying in bed, as the money runs out and his seed shop remains closed.  One day, his son visits him, and provides a spark for William.  He finally gets out of bed, determined to begin research again--and finds that bees and hives are his passion.  Can he create a new, man made beehive that will revolutionize beekeeping, and provide his family with wealth?  

George is the latest in his beekeeping family.  A successful farmer, he's always made his own beehives from a family plan handed down through the generations.  His son Tom is away at college, but George has plans to work along side his son and hand off the family beekeeping operation to the next generation.  Tom, however, returns from college a changed man--one who isn't all that interested in beekeeping.  It's 2007, and reports of whole bee hives mysteriously dying off has folks puzzled and afraid.  Will George manage to keep his farm going?

Well.  We know it doesn't go well for the bees, thanks to Tao's story.  By 2098 the world is decimated--all because of The Collapse.  If anything, this novel makes you aware of just how vitally important bees are to, well, EVERYTHING.    It's serious stuff, and not made up fiction. Tao's world can be avoided.  

While this could be a novel about hopelessness, it's actually the opposite.  Tao's story is the most interesting one, because it's through a horrible tragedy involving Wei-Wen that hope is once again born in the world. You may wonder how these three characters, decades apart, could possibly be connected.  Oh, they are--in such a wonderful way.  I myself just had to cheer for William at the end of Tao's story.  Yes, both William and George (and Tom) are vitally present in 2098 China.  A perfect example of how we are all connected, and how much bees have helped sustain life over and over, and will continue to do so--if we just be mindful of them and get out of their way. 

It took me a while to get through this book. I had some trouble sticking with it, but have to admit Tao's story kept pulling me back, and I'm so glad I finished the novel.  It is one of those reads that resonates after you've read it and have time to think about it.  I'm definitely going to do my part next Spring and plant plenty of bee-friendly flowers in my yard. This novel may just be the catalyst to your interest in bees, and how incredibly important they are to our survival. There are plenty of books and documentaries about The Collapse, the history of bees, and yes--even how to be an urban beekeeper.  Get busy!

Rating:  3/6 for a good novel, but one I had to work to get through, until it clicked about 3/4 of the way through and then I raced to finish it.  A fascinating look at history, how we all are connected, and the power of bees. 

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