"The Secret Life of Bees"
(Review UK, Hardcover, 3rd edition, 2002, read: June 02)
"Lily has grown up believing she accidentally killed her mother. Lily, just four at the time, not only has her own memory of holding the gun, but her father's account of the event. Now, at fourteen, she yearns for her mother, and for forgiveness. Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her father, she has just one friend, Rosaleen, a black servant of uncertain age, whose sharp exterior hides a tender heart.
South Carolina in the sixties is a place where segregation is still considered a cause worth fighting for. When racial tension explodes on summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is compelled to act - though not purely for selfless reasons. Fugitives from justice and from Lily's harsh and unyielding father, they follow a trail left by the woman wo died ten years before. Finding sanctuary in the home of three beekeeping sisters, Lily starts a journey as much about her understanding of the world, as about the mystery surrounding her mother."
Until now Mrs. Kidd has written mostly Christian self-help books and memoirs and "The Secret Life of Bees" is her first novel. It didn't make it to the front rows of the American bestseller lists and who knows if it will ever be translated into other languages but literary critics praised it a lot. I found it in the magazine "Book" and first of all I liked the wonderful cover design. The story sounded nice and I decided to give the unknown author a chance. And I wasn't disappointed.
It's the wonderful story of 14-year-old Lily who learns to come over the death of her mother and take life into her own hands with the help of four extraordinary women. The sisters May, June and August Boatwright are beekeepers and their whole life is determined by these animals. That's why facts on the lives of bees are woven into the story. The women are independent, headstrong characters and Lily and Rosaleen like being around them, even though Lily doesn't tell the whole truth about their plans immediately. Another important part of the story are the racial conflicts in 60s America. The novel doesn't contain a simple "feel good story" because misunderstandings and ignorance lead to terrible trouble. But in the end its a book about strong women who go their way independently and don't give up because of the ignorance of their environment. And Lily can learn a lot from that.
This book is simply beautiful. It looks beautiful, it's written beautifully and its about a beautiful story where you can take something with you in the end. These women will definitely stay in your memory long after you've finished the book. Not to kitschy and pathetic but with a little bit of heartbreak and drama. A good mix for a foggy autumn day.
[Dorothée Büttgen, September 02]
More great reviews from Bookworm's Lair: