Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Secret Life of Bees, a Novel by Sue Monk Kidd

Although The Secret Life of Bees is a work of fiction, this is a beautifully written honest portrayal of life in unfairly segregated South Carolina with the Jim Crow laws, through the signing in 1964 of revised Civil Rights laws to end segregation, allowing registration to vote to African Americans and other minorities. A time of civil disobedience and riots still happening, and in the midst of it comes this wonderful story of love, color-blindness, joy and happiness.  Sue Monk Kidd is an amazing author, with a gift of feeling her characters and creating them in such a way the reader feels all the nuances, too.  This book is very difficult to put down once begun.

There is also a mystery running through the book, as Lily, a young white girl tries to find solace in her difficult life and protection for the only woman she has had love from, Rosaleen, a black woman who has been brought in from the orchards to raise her after her mother dies while Lily is just a toddler.  With a volatile father who has no parenting instincts, her life is nothing but fear and pain.  When Rosaleen learns that she can now go and register to vote, as long as she could write legibly, the two of them walk into town where Rosaleen gets into a ruckus with some white men who are out for trouble, is beaten then both she and Lily are packed off to jail.  Lily's father gets her out and punishes her and the next day Lily hears that Rosaleen is in the hospital from a further beating while in jail, and through some quick thinking manages to rescue her and run away together.

Lily has no idea where they should go, but she had found some things of her mother's and one item, a picture of a "Black Mary" fastened to wood with the name of a small town on it, seemed to guide her, so that is where they head.  Once they finally find their way into the town, a chance visit to a small grocery store brings Lily face to face with stacks of honey with the exact same face pasted on it. Finding out where the person lives who supplies this opens great new doors for the two runaways.

Here is a new world, with kindness, love, caring, hominess, and a honey farm.  From this point on, both Lily and Rosaleen find the peace and caring they need and are absorbed into the family for an unspecified time.  The things they learn about life, and indeed about bees and beekeeping gradually open up their hearts and minds to possibilities.  While still fearing her father or the police will catch them, they cannot bring themselves to talk about their own lives, and no one pushes them to.  This is the beauty of the story. Heart-warming yet the veil of danger at all times. Love flows from all around as the honey flows from the supers when they are full. There are many quotes about bees, one for each chapter, that link the life of bees with human life, which is fascinating.

When Lily's father finally finds her, the overwhelming force of love from so many beats him back and he heads for home at last.  There is so much to be learned from this book in so many ways. Soul-searching and finding one's soul; the optimism for the future, the freedom of being oneself, the peace, love, and joy available when we are ready to accept it. This is a remarkable book and I would recommend it to everyone.  5 stars.


Nicola said...

Wonderful review! I loved this also when I read it just last year, I think.

nightreader said...

Thank you. Even my husband enjoyed it.

Dennis said...

I normally read history and war books
but I read this one because I was once a beekeeper. The best read in a long time and the quotes of beekeeping was so accurate the story pulled me right into the honey house.
Anyone with a imagination and a sense of history could feel the pull of a time and place. good for all ages. the most stars you can give