The History of Bees by Maja Lunde.

Let’s get ready for a disaster.

Since I first found out about it last year, „The History of Bees” – an international bestseller by Norwegian Maja Lunde has been on my book wish list. Finally, I have had a chance to read it. The version that I have read is the Polish translation by Anna Marcinkówna. An English version is also available, translated from Norwegian by Diane Oatley and published by Touchstone. “The History of Bees” is light reading, but don’t be misled by its pleasant narration style. It describes a very serious problem, which should be a concern for all of us, without any exceptions.

The action of the book revolves around three main characters, living in three very distant countries and epochs. The author takes as to the 19th century England, where we meet William – an unfulfilled scientist and a father of a numerous family. He cannot cope with dull reality and suffers from major depression. But one day a seemingly insignificant event reminds him about his long-forgotten ambitions and passion. Then, we get to know George – a middle-aged, energetic American, living in the early 21st century. George is a conservative and quite short-tempered person, who cannot accept the fact that his only son has different plans for his future than continuing their family business. The third character is Tao – a young wife and mother living in China in 2098.  Her life is monotonous; full of routines and hard work. It all changes when a dramatic event turns her world upside down…

So what is that all these three people have in common? First of all, the universal character of their stories. All of them have to deal with the burdens of everyday life and suffer because of their unfulfilled ambitions. They all make unrealistic plans about their children’s future. They all act on impulse. However, what more importantly binds these three tales are bees. Because the life of these tiny creatures is inseparably tied to the destiny of humans. No matter the place and the times they live in.

William is a scientist researching the habits of bees and trying to construct a new model of beehive. George is a professional beekeeper, as were many generations of men in his family. Tao, in turn, earns her living manually pollinating fruit trees. Why does she have to do this? Because she lives in a world after the so-called Collapse – a situation that occurred in the mid-21st century and, because of which, there are no more bees on our planet…

The book is written in a very uncomplicated language. I would even risk to say childishly simple.  Of course, most of us can evaluate it only through the prism of its translation. Nevertheless, I suppose the Norwegian original is probably also quite simple, given the fact that most of Maja Lunde’s books are aimed at children and teenagers. It therefore makes sense that this style suits her best. “The History of Bees” is not a literary work of art, which will delight you with brilliant puns, complicated psychology of its characters or surprising metaphors and comparisons. Is it still worth reading then? Definitely yes!

What makes The History of Bees a book for everyone

First, stories of the three main characters are very absorbing, from the word go. . I impatiently turned the following pages, curious to find out what happens next. Their problems and emotions are universal enough for everyone to identify with them. Then, the book contains a lot of accessible and interestingly described information on the life and habits of bees, work of beekeepers and beehive construction. The author skillfully evokes the reader’s fascination by describing these perfectly organized honey-bearing creatures. The third and the most important reason – she draws our attention to a huge problem, which is the massive extinction of bees. Mind you, this is not her invention. It has really started already and it is happening now. It should be a concern of all of us.

I think that the author purposefully chose her characters to live in three different epochs and times, to highlight that the problem is universal. No matter where we live, the fate of bees is our fate and if they go extinct, we will all bear the consequences. The world in which Tao lives does not have to be a science fiction vision. Quite soon, it can become a reality and then nothing will help us. Banks, institutions, multinationals, even Google and Facebook will be meaningless. Because there will be no basic thing that we need in first place – food.

„The History of Bees” is a novel for all of us – teenagers and adults, literature lovers and people who only occasionally reach for a book. Given its language and narration style, it makes for an easy read; it does not require concentration or contemplating. I read it when travelling by public transport to work. However, this pleasant form has been used to present a serious and alarming problem, which you will certainly remember for a longer time. I guarantee that after having read this book, you will gratefully look at every encountered bee and at all the food that you can find on your table, thanks to the hard work (still) performed for us by these tiny creatures.

A hotel for pollinators based in the Skaryszewski Park in Warsaw


Interesting links:

A website where you can find more information on bees and Colony Collapse Disorder, recommended by Maja Lunde herself:

In this 15-minute, captivating TED talk, Marla Spivak explains why 10 years ago bees started disappearing on a mass scale and what we can do to help them:

Dennis van Engelsdorp, an apiarist and researcher on pollinators’ health, explains in a pleasant and witty way why we, as humanity, need bees:

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