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The History of Bees (Klimakvartetten, #1)
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Previous BRs - Authors; I - L > Lunde, Maja - The History of Bees Informal Buddy Read starts 24 April 2019

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message 1: by Moderators of NBRC, Challenger-in-Chief (new)

Moderators of NBRC | 31140 comments Mod
This thread is open to all to discuss The History of Bees
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde
In the spirit of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, this dazzling and ambitious literary debut follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future, weaving a spellbinding story of their relationship to the bees, to their children, and to one another against the backdrop of an urgent, global crisis.

England, 1852. William is a biologist and seed merchant who sets out to build a new type of beehive, one that will give both him and his children honor and fame.

United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper fighting an uphill battle against modern farming, but he hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao's young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident, she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.

Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought-provoking story that is just as much about the powerful bond between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.

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message 3: by Moderators of NBRC, Challenger-in-Chief (new)

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message 4: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
right-ho, I'm going to cue up my copy for my commute home this evening - getting excited to finally read it! :)

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Me too! I will start it right after I wrap up The Night Tiger 🐯

message 6: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
Alysa wrote: "Me too! I will start it right after I wrap up The Night Tiger 🐯"

How is The Night Tiger?

Alysa H. | 3650 comments It’s pretty good, but a little bit too... twee?
If you’ve read The Ghost Bride, the author is mining the same stuff.

message 8: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
Alysa wrote: "It’s pretty good, but a little bit too... twee?
If you’ve read The Ghost Bride, the author is mining the same stuff."

If it's on the twee side I might save it for a while. I've been chewing through a load of fairly twee short books for UNO, and am nearly at saturation point for that vibe!

message 9: by Alysa (last edited Apr 24, 2019 03:30PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alysa H. | 3650 comments I don't know, maybe it's just me. I do like it though!

I'm nearly done. I'm not sure I will finish it in time to start Bees today! If not, then definitely in the morning. I think I will pause the last bit of Tiger just so I can officially start Bees today. I don’t wanna leave you hanging! 🐝

message 10: by Alysa (last edited Apr 24, 2019 07:19PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Okay! I’ve read 2 sections each of the 3 POVs, which brings me to page 45. So far I’ve enjoyed Tao’s sections the most (China in 2098). I appreciate Lunde’s vision of the future, and how she writes Tao’s internal struggles as a parent.

The William and George bits (1852 England and 2007 middle-America, respectively) are unrelatable in one case and a little heavy-handed in the other. Guess which one is which!

message 11: by Cat (last edited Apr 25, 2019 03:25AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
I agree, Tao is the most relatable of the POVs so far, and I find that setting the best developed - possibly because Lunde has to put the work in to get us there, unlike the past and near-past, where she can assume familiarity by most readers?

I've read a bit further on - three of each POV - and the family relationships as a theme of the book is definitely becoming obvious!

William is very strange: because his mentor was unhappy with him having children, he took to his bed to the point that he let his business life fail in the same way that his intellectual life? Really?!

I do feel sorry for George: he means well and is willing to have oddly fetished sex with his wife, but still can't connect with Tom :(
(yeah, the sex scene doesn't really link to his relationship with his son, but I had to mention it somehow!)

I am enjoying it, and trying to work out how it links up: currently thinking that Tao's book The History of Bees is written by George...

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Yeah, William seems like a total jerk, not facing his responsibilities as a father of 8 (eight!!!) kids. I understand that serious depression can cause people to do things like that, and depression was not well understood in the 1850s, but still.

Also... for several reasons, it doesn’t feel like it is set in England? Somehow? I’m not English (however many times I’ve been to the UK 😘), so maybe I am off base there, but it seems like the author’s Scandinavian roots are showing. Like, I would not be surprised if someone told me the William sections were set in Oslo.

OMG the weird sex scene with George and his wife and the headphones. Nice to see depictions of older couples who still have some passion, but that was so odd. And George’s stereotyping (so far) as an old-fashioned Red State dude certainly does not make me want to sexuality him.

I agree about Tao’s world being the most developed by the author, and that’s a good point about it requiring more work because the other settings should already be more familiar to readers. But
I think that assumption of familiarity is what causes the “England 1852” problem too. Like, don’t assume readers will just “get” it when your own experience or familiarity with time and place in historical fiction may not be the same.

message 13: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
I don't have any personal experience with depression, but the depiction of William immediately taking to his bed after cross words with his mentor is hard to buy into, without more back story showing us why this is such a crippling blow, I think.

I hadn't really thought about the England setting, particularly. Possibly because it doesn't really matter too much? Northern Europe attitudes are broadly similar, so provided we are in a country that prizes academia and mercantile life, it works?

Alysa H. | 3650 comments But that’s just it: In this kind of book, if the setting is generic and doesn’t matter all that much, then that is a problem. I’m a lot farther in now (just hit page 147) and am still not finding the England setting any more developed.

William’s backstory adds to my understanding him as a character, but still doesn’t make me any more sympathetic to his “taking to bed” with depression to the extent that he did. And the way he snapped out of it was a little too facile as well. Hopefully he will get over himself — and his sexist bias against his wife and daughters! But, product of his time and all that. I sort of want his obsession with his son’s supposed superiority to bite him in the ass somehow.

George, in his mid-40s (?) in 2007, seems less like a product of his time and more like a throwback to a slightly earlier America. I guess that’s part of the point though, and there are still plenty of people who think that way. His clinging to his farm ways and not getting why his son prefers to continue with Higher Ed is more understandable, regardless of who is right. The whole “moving to Florida” thing is funny to me, since I know people who have done that over the years, including in my family. :)

As for Tao, what happened to her 3 yr old son is so tragic… but I feel like I am waiting for the book to catch up with my assumption that his accident had something to do with bees!

message 15: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
I'm on kindle, so I'm not sure what page I'm at. I just finished a William segment where he was reflecting on how sex with his wife wasn't like pounding fertile earth - come back George & Emma, sex with ear defenders is totally forgiven now! :)

Tao is in hospital with Wei-Wen, but I don't know the outcome of what happened yet...

The George segments are interesting as the foreshadowing of The Collapse, with Graham bringing his pollinators back from Florida. I was slightly surprised that there was no worry shown by either man that whatever was happening in Florida's hives might not be contagious, and that maybe moving hives about freely wasn't a great move. Foot & mouth movement constraints still pretty alive in UK memory after that massive outbreak a few years back.

Alysa H. | 3650 comments WHY WHY WHY does Tao go to Beijing!?! I guess anyone might become irrational if their kid is taken away, but still. Such a bad idea.

message 17: by Alysa (last edited Apr 26, 2019 01:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Have you read The Bees by Laline Paull? Some of the descriptions of bee life here are making me anthropomorphize them because of that book. 🙂

message 18: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
I have read The Bees - and loved it! It was soooo good!

Alysa H. | 3650 comments I’m done! Are you done too? I don’t want to spoil anything in case you aren’t.

message 20: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
I'm not done sorry :(

@50%, so there's an outside chance I'll finish it today, otherwise it'll be tomorrow

Alysa H. | 3650 comments No worries, take your time. 🙂

message 22: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
I'm done!

I was reading on the bus in, and wanted to pop up and go "OHHHHH! William's depression makes more sense now" after his interaction with Rahm at the hive display.
I did like the references to yellow wallpaper in that section :)

Huzzah for Tom: the reveals of their future relationship via his book were touching.

but.... the end was just too pat, I think, to satisfy

Alysa H. | 3650 comments I still didn’t buy William’s reactions. He’s just such a loser. Not because he fails, but because of how he reacts to failure, and because of how he treats his family. He just never learns.

I did appreciate the reveal that William was the ancestor of George and Tom, and that his work eventually became useful (by default!) is Tao’s time. That was amusing. “Savage’s Standard Hives” indeed!

I had guessed early on that Tom wrote the book that Tao found, and of course that Tao’s son died from bee stings. I was a little bored waiting for the book to catch up to my assumptions there.

Altogether, I liked the book but didn’t love it. The writing is good. The messaging is fine; a little heavy-handed but not too much. The “future” sections remained the best developed, for reasons we already discussed, but kind of had that feeling of “sci-fi/fantasy for people who don’t read sci-fi/fantasy” — which I guess makes the publishers’ comparisons apt (e.g. Station Eleven). That is to say, this is a very mainstream book. Pat ending is just more evidence of that.

message 24: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
the freezing of Wei-Wen's body was odd. It was a beautifully described image, but really bizarre idea. The whole fetishising of him as the rediscoverer is just a bit weird, especially in the context of China (even future-China) where community is prized over the individual.

What puzzles me is that this is now apparently #1 in a series. I can't see where it would go next, except an exploration of the rebuilding of agriculture? I'm honestly not up for that book - this works as a standalone, and I don't think there's any value in a sequel or companion book (though I'd love to know more about Charlotte Savage, who kicked ass!)

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Yes to all of that! Esp this novel being a pure standalone, and to the strangeness of Wei-Wen being celebrated as an individual. That definitely didn’t fit with the future-China that we saw throughout the rest of the book.

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Okay so the “sequel” is a whole different story with different characters and times, but with the same sort of Environmental Science ethos. It’s about water shortages.
Will it be, like, Paolo Bacigalupi for people who only read mainstream literary fiction? Perhaps!

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Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
gah! people who are genre snobs are so annoying. (though, to be fair, Bacigalupi is pretty intense stuff!)

Did you see Ian McEwan saying that his latest (Machines Like Me) wasn't science-fiction. It has AI as the key driver but can't possibly be sci-fi *clutches pearls in horror*
The Guardian has an article...

message 28: by Alysa (last edited Apr 29, 2019 06:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Ugh, Ian McEwan.
"'There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future,' McEwan said in a recent interview, “not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas.' There is, as many readers noticed, a whiff of genre snobbery here[...]"

Gee, you think? Definitely absurd. Insofar as there is any real distinction to be made, both the Lunde and the McEwan books in question are absolutely Sci-Fi. The McEwan perhaps even more so, since it doesn't (I think) have any bits with 19th century historical fiction ;)

ETA: Great Guardian article, BTW. I love that site.

message 29: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
The distinction I sometimes see authors make (Atwood was the prime example, iirc) is saying that it's not Sci-Fi, it's speculative fiction they are writing. As if ALL fiction wasn't, by it's very nature, speculative!

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Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
Oddly enough, the genre / literary style I have the most trouble with is magical realism.

I can be totally marmite about it - for example I enjoyed Gabriel García Márquez but hated Salman Rushdie and am very hit and miss with others like Isabel Allende or Paulo Coelho.

Which is odd, as I love sci-fi/fantasy and literary fiction, but the weird offspring of the two? not so much!

Alysa H. | 3650 comments I tend to like Indian/South Asian magical realism but not so much Spanish/Latin American etc. I guess I just connect with it more for some reason? Maybe because the latter tends to have Christian undertones, which I don't dig? IDK.

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Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
Just, WHY????

Alysa H. | 3650 comments Maybe they are doomsday cultists trying to bring about the apocalypse by way of bee death. :(

message 35: by Cat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cat (cat_uk) | 6948 comments Mod
Alysa wrote: "Maybe they are doomsday cultists trying to bring about the apocalypse by way of bee death. :("

I hate doomsday cultists!

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