Once in a while, you get to read a story that touches you to the core and The Secret Life of Bees did just that. For a first novel, it contains all the ingredients of a successful story – coming of age, family relationship, friendship, racial differences and broken dreams – poignant, at times humorous, engaging, brimming with energy and hope and above all it is the story of women who believe in the power of a higher being, in August’s words, “Our Lady (pertaining to the black Madonna) is not some magical being out there somewhere”, she’s something inside in all of us.
Set in the year 1964 in a little South Carolina town, The Secret Life of Bees is a story of Lily Owens, a fourteen year old girl whose life revolved around a peach farm and a father who has no love in his heart. She spent much of her life longing for her mother, Deborah who died when Lily was four years old amidst mysterious circumstances. Her father, T. Ray made her believe that she accidentally killed her mother. Together with her black American nanny Rosaleen and armed with a picture of a black Virgin Mary, the two set out across North Carolina in search of a new life. Their destination was Tiburon, South Carolina.They found a home with three black beekeeping sisters who worshipped the Black Madonna. Lily called them ‘the calendar ladies” for they were named May, June and August.It was here, amidst the hum of bees, and a circle of wise and colorful women that Lily found what love was and where she made a new life. She has finally forgiven herself of all the wounds she felt losing her mother and has come to terms with her mother’s past, finding love at last and several mothers to booth.
The book was richly written and what made it more interesting was the the vivid description of how bees live. I learned a lot just reading the introductions on the life of bees at each chapter of the novel. I am quoting some paragraphs here which I think summarize Lily’s longing for a mother:
“The frame contained a picture of a woman in profile, her head bent toward a little girl who sat in a high chair with a smudge of baby food on the side of her mouth. She held a baby spoon in her right hand, Light glazed her face. The little girl wore a bib with a teddy bear on it. A sprig of hair on top of her head was tied with a bow. She lifted one hand toward the woman.
Me and my mother.
I didn’t care about anything on this earth except the way her face was tipped toward mine, our noses just touching, how wide and gorgeous her smile was, like sparklers going off.
Through the open window the air smelled like Carolina jasmine, which is the true smell of South Carolina. I walked over and propped my elbows on the sill and breathed as deeply as I could.
I looked down at the picture, then closed my eyes. I figured May must’ve made it to heaven and explained to my mother about the sign I wanted. The one that would let me know I was loved”.
This was made into a movie which starred Dakota Fanning in the “I am Sam” fame. I am a little excited and I’d like to watch it when it will be shown here.Based on some reviews that I read and the video clips that I watched, it seems they have made a good movie adaptation of the book.