The History of Bees (Maja Lunde)

The History of Bees is the first novel in the Climate Quartett by Maja Lunde. I read the German translation (Die Geschichte der Bienen) by Ursel Allenstein.
Finished on: 9.8.2021

Content Note: misogyny

Plot:
1852, England. William is a biologist who dreams of studying bees. But after a professional setback, he hasn’t managed to get out of bed for months now. Maybe he’ll find new energy, though.
2007, Ohio, USA. George is a bee farmer, hoping that his son Tom will follow in his footsteps. Tom has other plans, though.
2098, China. Tao is one of many human pollinators, doing her best to fill in for the bees who disappeared and left agriculture and with it humanity in a life-threatening situation. But the work is hard and pay is meager.

The History of Bees is an okay read, at least once you get through the first half. While I found the topic interesting, the execution was difficult for me to enjoy.

The book cover showing a bee lying on its side as if dead.

The book is divided in three storylines, but they are told not one after the other, but switch from chapter to chapter. That probably did the story some good because it connected the three perspectives much more closely with each other. But in the beginning, we may would have needed a bit more time with each to get into the stories by themselves before jumping into the next one.

It made the beginning of the book really difficult for me to read, and I contemplated quitting it more than once, especially when it came to William’s bits. In the second half, things find their groove and pacing a little more, but by then, some damage was already done.

Because there was something I struggled with in each of the three stories, especially William’s bit. He was such a misogynistic narcissist, I really don’t know why I should care for his plight. Why not tell this particular bit of the story through the eyes of his daughter? She was interesting and likeable and much more important, in the long run, to the fate of the bees.

With Tao, I really couldn’t shake the feeling that we got a very white perspective on China. I did like Tao herself, but the way Lunde imagines the future China feels like, pretty much, the Western fear of what China might become and how it might become more than the West.

And finally with George, I have to say that I had the least problems here and was the most emotionally involved, but I was irritated by the fact how sidelined his wife was in the story (I can’t even remember her name anymore). It was all about George and Tom, even though she really did the emotional heavylifting all of the time.

Despite all these smaller and bigger irritations, I kept at it. I’m not entirely sure why – maybe simple habit of finishing books. And there were some satisfying moments here and there. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that I won’t be continuing with the rest of the Climate Quartett

Summarizing: okay, but really not great.

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