‘The Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd
Certain books have a way of coming to you when the moment is just right. There I was on a holiday, in a home stay where books were in plenty, many of them dog eared, the edges turning brown and some of them even crumbling. Finding the right book to read from this profusion was a true dilemma. Picked up and even tried reading a few, but then, my heart refused to be drawn into any of those. Browsing through yet another book shelf as the kids were running around the living room, I could almost hear the hum of bees as this book called out to me, the one that I’ve been searching for, for sometime.
Fourteen year old Lily Owens has grown up with a sense of terrible guilt and an insatiable longing for her dead mother. The only memory that she has of her mother is a beautiful lady urging her to hurry up, throwing clothes into a suitcase and the sound of a gun shot. Rosaleen , the black lady is the only mother figure that she has known as she grew up with her authoritative and abusive father. A racist incident finds Rosaleen in jail and Lily decides to break her free , finding freedom from her father along with that.
A picture of a ‘Black Mary’ with a note ‘Tiburon, South Carolina‘ leads her to the three Boatwright sisters named after the months they were born in and their enchanting and somewhat eccentric world of bees, honey, Black Madonna and Daughters of Mary. Lily’s longing for the love of a mother, the tiniest hope for a sign that her father loves her in some way and moreover, her determination to break free from the shackles of a moralistic society that decides where a woman’s place should be, is what the story is all about. It is also about the coming of age of a teenage girl in an an obviously racist community and her bewilderment at how the color of your skin decides who you are and how you would be treated.
August Boatwright comes across as a mature paerson, who has learnt what life is at a young age and has decided to live life on her own terms. As for June, she is the stubborn mule and it takes a sad and shocking tragedy to make her come to her senses. May and her wailing wall tugs at your heart’s strings. Through these ladies, their mad cap sisterhood, the tough Rosaleen and the handsome Zach, Lily comes to terms with who her mother was and in the process finds herself and the courage to face her father.
This is as much a coming of age story of a young white girl as it is about life lessons. This is also about mothers and daughters and the beautiful truth that you need not give birth to a baby to be a mother.
I loved the allegories to the world of bees in each chapter.
“The world was really one big bee yard, and the same rules worked fine in both places. Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and long pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates, while whistling melts a bee’s temper. Act like you know what you are doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little being wants to be loved.”
Just what I needed to complete my nostalgic holiday,
“Actually, you can be bad at something, Lily, but if you love doing it, that will be enough.”
Verdict : A simple story , told charmingly. Nothing earth shattering, but it sure does make you think and smile, what more do you need?