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Thursday, February 03, 2005

THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES—OR, WHITHER SHERLOCK ?

Well, again Serendipity has its blessings. I cannot for the life of me figure out why I chose this book to crossword over others. Done in three parts, I, like Oliver Twist, simply kept coming back for more.

Set in South Carolina during the Civil Rights Movement, a fourteen year old Lily Owen is fed up with her wifeless father, Ray T and sets off stoically and impractically with her black nanny, Rosaleen, troubled by her insensitive father and in quest of a better understanding of her mother who dies while she was little. Calamitous events dog her every step, what with the brutal racial violence of the time. With ingenuity, spunk and courage, they find themselves in the House of the Bees, a family of black sisters –May, June and August Boatright in Tiburon.

Their quiet dignity and grace infuses her loveless life as she warms to them and appreciates the careworn of black households, and is nonplussed at the antagonism of the disbelieving authorities who cannot comprehend why she, a white, has consented to live with blacks. Lily learns beekeeping assiduously- a patient and caring vocation and begins to mature when she discovers that this is the same house where her mother had been when she was a little girl. Her blooming romance with a bright black boy is an anachronism and happens inspite of herself.

She reprises her mother’s footsteps and devours every minutiae, but is plagued by misery and torment when she wonders how and why her mother abandoned her. Her father shows up and alleges that she as a toddler mistekenly shot her mother dead, but is heroically shown the door by the five of them, Lily choosing to stay on with the beekeepers.

The yarn is rife with metaphorical references to bees and honey-making , which would point to motherlessness and pronounced need for nurturance which every teenager has. It also hints at the angst to carve an independent identity.
Lily’s unwitting aphorisms, insights, observations and judgments are placed before the reader without sentiment and pretences of sanctimony and these are the voice and soul of the read.

Myriad descriptions of worshipping and consecrating the Black Madonna were slightly beyond me—with my immense ignorance of religion.

This book is breathtaking because of what it is not—a racial vendetta, a soppy and smarmy coming-of-age tale , an oratorio of Caulfield chastisements or even a family catalogue. The prose is gripping and haunting, and there are hardly any spiffy one-liners. The classical and consummate absence of adjectives and the warmth and mellowness, which suffuses the book, is a delight to behold. The imponderable search for completeness, family, acceptance and ritualism is just right.

I am staggered by Sue Monk Kidd, an 9.25 on 10 !

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