The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde

Spanning across three different timelines centuries apart, The History of Bees tells a rounded narrative of mankind’s industrialisation, from its hopeful beginnings in the 19th century to the sorry aftermath predicted by the late 21st. Through the parameter of our hardworking honey-making friends, Lunde explores the all too real repercussions of humanity’s continuous strive to mold nature to its whims.


Following the narratives of three characters, whose stories are carefully intertwined across hundreds of years by a shared interest in the marvelous bee, the progression of humanity across so short a span is truly made stark in these pages. Lunde explores how each of her characters are affected by their society’s collective mindset, and the impact this has upon their lives.


Beginning with the desperate struggles of William Savage in England 1851, we see how a father will sacrifice everything about his comfortable life to join the race for modern innovation and scientific breakthrough. Turning then to the modern day and the height of industrialisation, we are introduced to George, a bee farmer of Ohio, USA, who finds himself torn between the traditional values his family has kept alive for so long and the powerful temptation to expand. As bees become essential tools for humanity’s growing hunger, taken on the road to pollinate fields hundreds of miles from their homes, the signs of our eventual downfall become all too clear.


Onto the last of this cycle through the history of bees is perhaps the most telling of the three, as Lunde imagines a dystopian future in which bees have become extinct, and humanity is brought to its knees without the billion’s strong tiny buzzing workforce.


Perhaps what makes these three narratives all the more impactful is the fact that each of the characters are parents. The future is never so real a place as when we have a physical link to it, and Lunde explores the stark contrasts between selfish desires for family legacy, and the selfless sacrifices for any future at all. From these mindsets Lunde creates a poignant view on our recent history and current mindsets, which is often so hard to define whilst living within.


Indeed, in our modern society filled with continuous innovation and progress, it is difficult to imagine that we could be brought to our knees because of so small a creature as a bee. While global warming is no new phenomenon, it is still easy to ignore the potential consequences of our actions. With so damning a description of a frighteningly near future, Lunde shines a light on our current actions, and what they could well incur.


This is truly a powerful novel, one which all should read and take heed of as we continue into a bittersweet future.


Length: 337 (Scribner)

Rating: 4 stars


Author: Jack Jakins

A recent graduate of history, now an aspiring writer and general cynicist

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