Title: The History of Bees
Author: Maja Lunde
Translation: Diane Oatley
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is wonderful!
By a Norwegian novel debut author, Maja Lunde; translated from Norwegian The History of Bees is really well written. While I give 80% of that credit to Lunde, a bit of credit is due to the translator Diane Oatley.
Following three different timelines, all related to bees in some way, this is a literary masterpiece.
The three settings
We have 1898, 2007 and 2089 as our time periods. Set in completely different parts of the world as well; England, USA and China respectively.
Of course the future timeline starts off the most interesting because we get to learn what Lunde sees as our (and the bees) world in 80ish years. As always it's a bit bleak.
In 2007 we are treated to honey production at the farm scale (not industrial) but still as the main income source. And of course, anyone who is aware of the bee situation today knows that this was around the time colonies were starting to suddenly collapse with no reason.
The past starts off slow but becomes really interesting as a man with an awful lot of children starts innovating his own type of beehive. The innovation is to allow for easier harvesting of the honey that doesn't require as many bees dying when you open the hive to harvest.
This is where Lunde really excels. Her characters are so life-like. The point of views (one per timeline) we are treated to are parents with children at various ages. Relationships between parents and their children are what The History of Bees is really about; and what makes it a solid 'typical book club' pick.
In all cases the parents wish better for their children, or at least speak of a legacy to help their children have better lives than their own in the future. A very typical parental obsession; but portrayed here in a way which even adults without children (like myself) can understand and appreciate.
It's all about the bees
I've looked into a small beehive for our yard before with no success because we don't think we can meet the space regulations. So going into this I knew a teeny tiny bit about colony collapse disorder (CDC).
Now after reading this I'm determined to have a hive at some point under my care. The bees are the link between our three timelines but they are also the link to humanity's survival. Pollination is key for most fruits and many other food sources to grow. Now let's be specific here for a minute we are talking about honeybees. There are lots of kinds of bees but the ones that are critical make the honey.
It's clear, even to a very amateur prospective beekeeper, that Lunde has done her homework here. Everything that happens in the 2007 timeline has already happened and her descriptions and explanations of the situations are anything but boring. Most of our characters are in love with bees and so they speak or think passionately about it. With just the right amount of truth and science built in. A very enjoyable way to learn about honey bees!
So for me the book felt like it was all about the bees (and bees are what drew me to it). Even though the bees are the link across time, the reality is that The History of Bees is about people coping with being a parent in their given timeline. The bees just make it sweeter.
The History of Bees was effortless to read. The characters and settings seemed to leap off the page for me. With the addition of a very relevant, important and interesting topic of bees thrown in this was a lovely piece of literature and one I look forward to adding to my print book collection (the next time I'm at a bookstore). In my book collection these days there is no higher honour than being an ebook or review copy that I read and decide to buy a print copy of. Lunde has earned this honour and I can't wait to read her next novel.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.