Author Maja Lunde weaves together the stories of three families who live in different places and historical periods, their narratives linked by an unlikely source: bees.
In 1852 England, William Savage feels demoralized and useless as the owner of a seed business, his dream of doing something significant as a biologist repeatedly dashed by his own ineptitude and unforeseen circumstances. More than anything else, he wants to impress his only son Edmund by building a new kind of beehive. He longs to draw Edmund into a life as a beekeeper, but the young man refuses to comply and William is despondent.
In Ohio in 2007, George is a small-scale beekeeper, continuing a tradition handed down through generations. He refuses to allow his farm to become like the large modern farms run by beekeepers who seem to care only about the bottom line and not about the welfare of the bees. He’s dismayed because his son Tom shows no interest in taking over the farm when he retires. When calamity strikes—the bees begin to mysteriously disappear, a phenomenon eventually called Colony Collapse Disorder—George faces utter vulnerability and fear for the future of his farm and livelihood.
In 2098 China, Tao lives with her husband and son Wei-Wen. Since the bees disappeared, Tao and countless other adults, as well as children, work 12 hours a day brushing pollen on fruit trees, ensuring a food source for the increasingly hungry population. One day Wei-Wen becomes ill and, without an explanation, the authorities take him away to an undisclosed destination. Tao risks all she has to determine what happened to her son and discovers a world filled with despair.
Throughout this fascinating novel for adults, Lunde considers the role of the individual and the collective. When is the individual more significant? When does the collective take precedence?
As Lunde explores the role of each of the three families in the worldwide history of bees, she considers the frailties of parents and their undying, unconditional love for their children, as well as the responsibility each has for the survival of bees and the natural world. Though at first glance The History of Bees may seem to be a dark and foreboding tale, it is not—in each family, Lunde paints hope with subtle strokes, and surprises await. (Touchstone)