STARRED REVIEW
August 22, 2017

What’s the buzz?

By Maja Lunde
Review by

It might come as a bit of a surprise that Norwegian author and screenwriter Maja Lunde would choose the humble insect as an organizing principle for The History of Bees, her first novel for adults. But here’s the head fake: This book is about bees the same way Moby-Dick is a book about whales or The Moviegoer is about movies.

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Most of us don’t think about bees that much. Few of us know that there are over 20,000 species, and that fewer than 10 of these species produce honey. Or that one out of every three bites of food that we consume relies on them for pollination, and that without our apian friends, blueberries and cherries would more or less cease to exist.

So it might come as a bit of a surprise that Norwegian author and screenwriter Maja Lunde would choose the humble insect as an organizing principle for The History of Bees, her first novel for adults. But here’s the head fake: This book is about bees the same way Moby-Dick is a book about whales or The Moviegoer is about movies.

In some ways, her novel 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, their only common touch point being the hives that brought honey, economic uncertainty and the possibility of ecological redemption.

Chapters shuttle back and forth between a 19th-century British biologist, a millennial-era American beekeeper and a Chinese hand-pollinator on the cusp of a dystopian 22nd century. At the outset, the connections between the three are opaque, but Lunde’s compelling narrative draws the reader in—more like a spider than a bee, actually. 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.

And while it might be putting too fine a point on it, Lunde demonstrates how our social order mirrors that of the bees: Some of us are workers, some drones and a lucky few queens, but each contributes to the upkeep of the hive in ways we may never understand.

 

Thane Tierney lives in Inglewood, CA, and spent several hundred dollars earlier this year to have a hive humanely removed from his home.

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The History of Bees

The History of Bees

By Maja Lunde
Touchstone
ISBN 9781501161377

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