Imagine a world without bees.
Maja Lunde’s sweeping novel, The History of Bees, envisions such a world. Following three different families in three different time periods, Lunde looks at the past, present, and future of beekeeping, and what we can do to save it.
The History of Bees is set England in 1852, the US in 2007, and China in 2098. What seems like three different stories becomes intertwined, with surprises along the way.
In 1852, William has spent months in bed in a depressive episode, leading to the loss of the family’s money. A chance conversation with his son sparks a new venture: building the perfect beehive. But his son is not the perfect child he hoped for, and he finds a more kindred spirit in one of his many daughters.
In 2007, George is a beekeeper who has been fighting against industrialised farming. He insists on making his own hives from scratch, and avoids travelling pollination as much as possible. But with dwindling finances and a son more interested in college than the farm, his failing bees begin to infiltrate his own failing family.
And in 2098, Tao is one of many workers who hand paints pollen onto fruit trees, a gruelling task by humans now that all the bees have disappeared. But a tragic accident involving her three year old son Wei-wen leads to him being taken away, and Tao will stop at nothing to get him back.
While separate stories, each are woven into one another with subtle references that will leave you pleasantly surprised when you discover them. The prose is elegantly written, but clever, and it reads as much as a mystery book as it does a book about nature. It’s part family drama, part political thriller, and part call-to-action, but above all it’s a look at the relationship between parent and child, and human beings and nature.
Each of the main characters – William, George, and Tao – are incredibly different, and it’s a testament to Lunde’s writing that each chapter has a distinct and individual voice, so that you never feel like the three stories are blending into one didactic tale. While the characters are delightfully individual, the stories they tell have similar core values. They’re about family, nature, determination and perseverance. They’re about the will and drive that sometimes comes to us from the least expected places.
Undeniably a must read of 2017, The History of Bees is an engrossing story, with a plot fast-paced enough to leave you ripping through the pages. Maja Lunde has woven a touching tale, filled with one cautionary reminder: while a world without bees might mean less bee stings, without them there would be no pollination, with disastrous consequences for the human race.
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.