October 2017 - The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde

bookclub

(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #41

Hello!

  1. I do (did? I’ve finished the book :slight_smile: ) like the three distinct storylines…my favourite was probably George, followed by William then Tao. These very beginning chapters I do like Tao’s storyline quite a bit - very interesting to read how they are individually pollinating the trees!! I like the 3 eras - one is in 19th century, but two in 21st, I thought originally George was in the 20th, so that she is encompassing 3 centuries - but maybe she’s done the two in one century to give us a not-too-too-distant future.

  2. At the moment, there is no connection to their 3 separate stories – I have to think Lunde is going to join them in some way? Hopefully? Maybe?

  3. If Tao’s parts are the dystopian voice - access to information seems like it would be the controlled part of everyone’s lives. The control of access to and the dissemination of information would, I imagine in the future, to be tightly done. Lunde also situated Tao in China where control of information is already in place - and it doesn’t seem to be too different in 2098??

  4. What a sad future if that were to take place. Tao does a wonderful job of showing her unhappiness, uneasiness about this. Worries about Wei-Wen being too close to the age where he will be taken.

  5. Did William take to his bed because of his unhappiness with where his life is? It seems to have just “happened” and the background wasn’t completely explained at first? Or maybe I just read this part all wrong? Is it because his mentor complained about his life - not one working on his research - instead having too large of a family?

  6. I knew about the major threats being faced about the bee population for sure! This was one of the most intriguing/appealing parts for wanting to read this book. I’ve seen the articles and news about it and the ad campaigns showing the empty produce sections in the grocery stores because without bees - there would be no produce, etc.

  7. My initial thoughts were that he fell into something? Touched something? Something relating to the plums he ate?

There is a “little” bit of a dystopian-feel to the story - the parts with Tao working for hours and hours hand-pollinating, the “voice” in the sky kind of thing, the heavy control of the work they do, sending the kids off to work at a very young age. But it’s not super-strong for me right now.


(Jennifer D.) #42
  1. i have been finding the 3 different storylines interesting enough. i think lunde does a good job differentiating the characters’ voices and eras. i guess i am finding myself more engaged with the 2007 arc… so far.
  2. i think the only connections i am seeing at this stage are the bees, and the dynamics of family - each main character has invested so much of themselves into one child – tao and george only each have one child, and william is fixed on edmund… though i am rooting for charlotte! :wink:
  3. i think knowledge and being informed is hugely important… but as we see through our own online resources today, so much can be so easily manipulated. i think it’s important to be able to get access to facts and truths. it’s so easy to google everything. i do wonder if deeper learning and understanding are lost in response to ‘quick answers’.
  4. no – how dreadful for children to be puled out of school and put to work, physical labour, at such a young age.
  5. i am really on the fence about william and his taking to bed situation. i mean, it feels like this must be depression he’s struggling with, though it’s not explicitly named and likely would not be called this at his time. i felt unsure of the authenticity of him just getting up, once edmund made the request. that bit was odd to me.
  6. i have and it was awesome!! i love bees. until bears destroyed them, i helped a friend with his hives quite a few times. the honey was delicious. (am i supposed to say that?? everything was very kindly, organically, and respectfully handled and this was an amateur situation. just 4 hives on his rural property.) i follow with worry the threats to our bee populations!
  7. it’s such a curiosity what happened to wei-wen… was it the plums? he’s the only one who ate them, but that seems too obvious/easy and would it be such a mystery, meaning if that was the cause would so much info be withheld from his parents?? so my guess is i don’t know. :slight_smile:
  8. i find the relationships between george, tom, and emma interesting. george isn’t really hearing tom – or is not accepting easily tom’s decision to want to continue school, rather than return to the farm to help. but tom seems insightful - i am actually quite drawn to his character. it seems like there’s a nice love between george and emma… though not a lot of communication. i always joke that if fictional characters had better communication skills, so many stories would not exist, or would be really, really short! ha!
  9. not a super-strong dystopian feel – though certain things do make me shudder to think about – the control tao lives under, and which many people experience in other countries today, would be so, so hard and soul-sucking. this book is often compared to station eleven… which i read. i think the difference with that novel was the arts survived, whereas in the history of bees, there is no room for arts or other outlets to to provide comfort or distraction. if that makes sense? i find the history of bees quite… sad.

(Kate Minckler) #43

Thanks for the great questions, Jennifer!

  1. I’m really looking forward to seeing if there are more complexities behind Lunde’s choice to set the action in these 3 time periods. It would be nice if all three characters made some kind of leaps forward in the knowledge of bees - for e.g. I’d like it if perhaps William designs an important new kind of bee hive, George figures out some way to help colony collapse, and Tao discovers a re-generation of bees in the future.
    I feel like I’m getting a good sense of the eras. I like that she doesn’t overdo the dystopian future - some books can really force the differences of the future in your face, but she’s being quite subtle with her references to what’s different in the world.
    I’m quite connected with the future storyline - as I have a young baby I find myself very anxious for Wei-Wen!

  2. I think I sort of answered the connections question above. I’m hoping each character advances humanity’s understanding of bees!

  3. I love having knowledge just a click away at all times, I would cope very badly without Google. Passing on knowledge makes us human. It’s something very few animals can do. Teaching our young, writing down our discoveries, these are very human acts. I wonder if bees pass on information to each other? I know they do a bee dance to communicate about flower locations… I liked the ‘William’ chapter that talked about bee worker hatchlings, and how they feed the ones that aren’t born yet. It gave a real sense of the familial structure of bee colonies, which seemed to chime nicely with the family emphasis in the human stories we’re following.

  4. Sadly, around the world it’s a reality today that many children end schooling at 8 or before in order to work. It’s a tragedy, and certainly isn’t just a dystopian trope.

  5. His ‘taking to bed’ is bizarre and certainly seems psycho-somatic. I’d like to know if there was one particular trigger…

  6. I’ve never spent time with a bee-keeper but I watched a documentary about colony collapse last year and found it heartbreaking and extremely worrying for the world.

  7. I’m convinced Wei-Wen has been stung by a bee and is in anaphylactic shock. The doctors don’t know what to do because this obviously never happens to people anymore. But maybe they suspect a bee did it, and that’s why they’ve set up the guarded perimeter to search for any bees that may be there. Obviously it would be a huge deal for the country if they find some surviving bees and can farm them again.

  8. George really doesn’t seem to do well with people, poor thing! I’m curious how the tension between him and his son will develop. Who is in the right? He’s not being a very supportive father, by maybe there’s a reason we don’t know yet that means Tom should go into bee-keeping.

  9. Again, I like that Lunde isn’t being in-your-face with the dystopian elements. She hasn’t fully explained how things are run in this future version of China, and I like that we’re being kept in the dark in the same way that Tao is. I imagine in a regime like this no one really knows how much the government knows, or who’s really in charge. The sense of not knowing as a reader mirrors that of Tao and her family.


(Kim@Time2Read) #44

We have three distinct timelines in this story: Tao who is in China in the year 2098; William who is in England in the year 1851; and George who is in America in 2007. Why do you think Lunde chose to tell her story in this way? Is there one character/timeline you are finding more engaging than the others? if so, why? Does Lunde do a good job distinguishing her characters’ voices and eras?

I’m actually enjoying all three storylines equally, unlike in The Last Neanderthal, where I felt like the Girl story was the only one I was interested in. I do feel Lunde may be breaking into new chapters a little too quickly; sometimes the stories seem a little choppy because as before I can become immersed in one, she has moved on to another.

Can you identify any connections or similarities our three main characters share?

I’ve been noticing a lot of similarities. Both George and William seem to long for a closer relationship with their sons and are disappointed in their choices to seemingly not follow in the ‘family business’. And both William and Tao seem to feel they did not live up to the potential they displayed as young people. All have a ‘map’ set out for their sons to follow.

Tao notes that along with the collapse, democracies fell, tech failed, and only books survived. Tao believes that without knowledge we are nothing. Do you agree with this thinking? How would you cope without instant access to information?

Well, I don’t really feel that we are ‘nothing’ without knowledge, but I do think the accumulation of knowledge is an inherent part of being human. We can’t help but want to learn and explore! At my age, I’ve lived quite a bit of my life without ‘instant’ access to knowledge, and I certainly would have a hard time going back. I had a hard time with the 6 hour Spectrum outage last week!

Could you imagine any future where schooling for children ends at the age of 8, and they are then sent to work?

I’m an optimist, so I can’t realistically imagine a future where it would be necessary to send children to work this early. At the same time, I can’t criticize the society in this story for doing so. It hasn’t bee all that long ago that schooling for children ended at 10-12 years of age, because they were needed to help on the farm and further education was not seen as helpful towards making them better farmers. We also saw in The Last Neanderthal that a young child such as Runt was expected to pull his weight and contribute to the good of the whole. In event of apocalyptic conditions, I can see that contributing towards the survival of the people as a whole would be seen as more important than the education of an individual. I’m optimistic enough to think it will never happen, but if it does, feeding people always takes priority over education.

What do you make of William’s ‘taking to bed’, and his subsequent decision to get up - because Edmund asked him to do so?

I think that William took to his bed out of depression, though perhaps not clinical depression. He snapped out of it too quickly for it to be clinical. But I do believe it was easier for him to stay in bed than it was to confront the truth that he was not living up the potential his mentor saw in him. It may have been more ‘avoidance’ and depression. I think through Edmund’s eyes, he saw what he had become, and it was even worse than what he saw through the eyes of his mentor. It was enough to make him want to change.

Have you ever spent time with a beekeeper, or with box hives? Do you know much about the threats being faced by the global bee population over the past many years?

I’ve not personally spent time with a beekeeper, though I’ve known a few. A man from church used to keep bees. And one of my good friends from college stated keeping bees a few years ago. He took us on an informal tour of his hives…from a distance!

I HAVE done quite a bit of reading about colony collapse in the past few years; enough that I expect this book to take a controversial slant. I know 4-5 years ago, many people believed that the collapse was entirely due to pesticides, but more recent research has thrown some doubt on that theory, and that now it is believed more likely that colony collapse is due to a virus. I’ll have to see if I can find some of those articles, because I can’t remember the name of the virus — just that it started with a ‘V’!

What do you think has happened to Wei-Wen?

My theory is that Wei-Wen has been stung by a bee! While investigating the cause, the scientist discovered bees in the woods where no one was to go, and they have fenced it off so that they can study the bees. But I also wonder if they were always there, or at least always something going on there, and that is why people were not allowed in the woods. (Or maybe I’m not remembering correctly, but I think I remember they weren’t allowed in the woods.)

What are George’s relationship with his wife and son like to you?

George is not much of a communicator. He doesn’t express his feelings well to either his wife or son. He also has their lives planned and isn’t particularly interested in input from either of them. He wants what he wants and he wants them to want it, too! Any deviation from his plan upsets him!

Are you getting a strong dystopian feel as you are reading this story? How does Lunde bring this sense into the novel?

I get a dystopian feeling about the future, with the controlling atmosphere and little choice. But I don’t have a strong feel for what is happening there yet. I can’t wait to read more!


(Jennifer D.) #45

i have LOVED reading all of your thoughtful answers to the questions i posed the other day! thank you!

how is everyone doing with the book this week? how far along are you now?

:smiley:


(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #46

I’ve finished the book!


(Kim@Time2Read) #47

I’ve read this weeks reading. I’m purposely holding off reading the end.
I need to say this…I really REALLY don’t like Rahm!


(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #48

Crusher of hopes and dreams isn’t he?


(Jennifer D.) #49

RIGHT?? he’s insufferable. :smiley:


(Jane D) #50

I am reading an ARC copy on my e-reader so I am not sure where the weekly reading sections end. Could someone please give me the first few words of the ‘Tao’ page 169 and the ‘Tao’ page 253 so I know where I should be reading to? Thanks so much.


(Jane D) #51

Although I don’t really know where I am in the reading time line, I think I can dive in on some of the questions.

I am enjoying the three story lines. I find the voices distinctive and enjoy the gradual reveal of the characters and the times in which they live. My feeling about telling three parallel stories is that in the 1850s the reader gets to experience a bit about what was known about bee keeping at the time. The reader learns as William learns. In the future of 2098 it is quickly revealed the repercussions of having no bees as humans are now made to do the work of bees. In the 2007 setting we see modern bee keeping but not so modern that the full force of hive collapse is present as seems to be happening everywhere now. For me Lunde has done a good job of holding my interest fairly equally among the three timelines.

The big connection between the three story tellers is that they are married with families. All three have sons. And in William’s case his son is his favourite. All three of our first person protagonist are concerned about future of their male children and their place in the world as adults. They have strong feelings about education. They all have conflicts of sorts, with their spouses. And of course bees seem to all be coming into play in one way or another in the three stories.

I do very much agree that knowledge is a huge part of the human experience. I think back to “The Last Neanderthal” that we read last month. Even Neanderthals and early humans passed along their knowledge in order to survive and prosper. To have access to vast quantities and varieties of knowledge at our fingertips now is truly amazing!

Oh man, I hope there is never a future where schooling ends at 8. Though there are places in the world where access to education is still very difficult and that is so, so tragic.

I got the impression he was suffering from a depression because his work was not satisfying. It seems that having his beloved son visit him was something he had been waiting for. Maybe the thought that Edmunds education would be jeopardy if William didn’t return to work also jolted him out of his depression

I have talked to bee keepers on a few occasions. We live in an agricultural area and there are bee keepers around, I have heard tales of her having to go in search of her bees when a hive has swarmed and how they have to deal with the mites that kill off the hives. She told me one thing that
can also kill off bees is starvation if there are no winter food sources for the bees they starve to death. People that get rid of clover and dandelions are actually harming bees as they are both food sources. Here in my farming community the bee keepers encourage farmers to over winter their fields with winter clover and legumes so the bees can feed.
There is actually a bee keeping business that is not far away from me, but I have not been over to check it out yet.
Also we have a fabulous non-profit organization in Vancouver BC called Hives for Humanity which I love so much. They do some fabulous things.

I think Wei-Wen was stung by a bee and has had a sever allergic reaction.

George is so set in his thinking that his son carry on at the farm that he is not listening to his Tom’s passion for studies. He also is dismissing his wife’s desire to retire to Florida. It seems like conflict all around.

The dystopian feel is made clear by the actions of the character in that first chapter, The reader knows that people no longer have control of their vocations and the work they do is for long hours. There are food shortages and everything regulated and everyone is controlled. We learn the number of children a couple has is controlled. There are self-driving cars. And education is a luxury. It is an authoritative state as in The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale. So society has been organized after “The Collapse” It is not an absence of society as books like The Road depict.


(Jennifer D.) #52

hi jane!

for tao, page 169:

Sweaters, trousers, underwear. For how many days? A week? Two? I packed everything I had room for.

for George, page 253:

After the meeting at the stupid bank, I went out to the field by the Alabast River. It was empty now.

I hope these help!!

:blush:


(Jennifer D.) #53

@Jane_D – thank you for your great thoughts on the story so far. :slight_smile: i liked how you linked this month’s read back to the last neanderthal, and the sharing of information for survival.


(Jane D) #54

Thanks so much Jennifer!! That means I have a bit of catching up to do!!!


(Jennifer D.) #55

hi everyone!! i hope you are enjoying the read and finding the story very engaging, so far.

here are this week’s discussion questions (and, please, remember you can ask your own questions or discussion points. my prompts are starting points, and not meant to restrict the conversations in any way. so please don’t be shy about jumping in with your own thoughts!)

  1. why do you think george so easily knows rick and jimmy, yet when tom asks his father to describe him, his son, george is at a loss for words?
  2. do you think tao will find wei-wen in beijing? do you appreciate her decision to go, and in doing so taking all their savings with her?
  3. george loses 4 hives to bears at lee’s blueberry farm. do you feel the risks of transporting hives for pollination is worth the risk for george?
  4. william worries edmund also suffers from ‘the melancholy’. but, he then sees edmund outside the tavern with alberta. how would you now describe or explain edmund’s state which has been previously attributed by thilda as edmund ‘needing rest’?
  5. how did you feel reading the scene where tao finds the elderly, untended patients who are being left to die. why would this decision be made for these elderly patients?
  6. rahm visits william and completely deflates him while informing william about dzierzon’s hives and work. why does william continue to value rahm’s opinion and crave his support?
  7. george has suffered colony collapse and has lost 26 of his colonies - he tries to get a bank loan to rebuild, but is declined and asked to consider gareth green’s model. how do george and gareth differ in their methods and beliefs?
  8. what sort of impression are you developing through tao’s experiences in beijing?
  9. at this stage, is the story feeling hopeful? do each of the three main characters exhibit hope? how? why?

can’t wait to hear your thoughts!!

:smiley:


(Kim@Time2Read) #56

why do you think george so easily knows rick and jimmy, yet when tom asks his father to describe him, his son, george is at a loss for words?

Part of it is that they are just so different, they don’t spend time together. Tom has no interest in the bees, so is not out working with his father every day. George really has no interest in getting to know his son — he thinks he already knows him. George’s expectations have blinded him to Tom’s aspirations, and they are so opposite of what George wants them to be, that he is in denial.

do you think tao will find wei-wen in beijing? do you appreciate her decision to go, and in doing so taking all their savings with her?

I do think Tao will eventually find Wei-Wen, but I don’t know if it will be in Beijing. I also don’t know if she will actually find him, or just find out what has happened to him. I have mixed feelings about her search and depleting their savings. I think most mother’s would go to any length to save their children, and with all the secrecy involved it will be difficult. At the same time, I understand why Kuan is more hesitant, and still wants to save the money for another child.

It is more difficult to understand why he isn’t joining in the search. My thought is that he has either already given up and thinks Wei-wen is already dead, or that he is much more trusting of his government to take care of Wei-wen and return him healthy than Tao is.

george loses 4 hives to bears at lee’s blueberry farm. do you feel the risks of transporting hives for pollination is worth the risk for george?

I think as long as George feels the loss of 4 hives is relatively small and easily recovered from, it is worth the risk to him. I’m not sure how much money he makes on the pollination service, but it probably is a significant enough portion of his income that it is worth the risk. Factors other than financial ones may also make it worth the risk to him, including his friendship with and loyalty to Lee. He also may feel a little altruistic; the flowers need to be pollinated before blueberries can form, and this is his way of help ensuring the world has blueberries.

william worries edmund also suffers from ‘the melancholy’. but, he then sees edmund outside the tavern with alberta. how would you now describe or explain edmund’s state which has been previously attributed by thilda as edmund ‘needing rest’?

I suspected early on that Edmund was out at night up to no good. I thought he was either drinking or doing drugs. I definitely did not think he was holed up studying all the time. I do think this is a big blow to William, not only because his son is not who William thought he was, but also because seeing him with Alberta probably brought back memories of his humiliation when his father discovered him.

how did you feel reading the scene where tao finds the elderly, untended patients who are being left to die. why would this decision be made for these elderly patients?

I think this is a situation typical of many dystopian novels. The elderly are seen as no longer useful, and their ability to contribute to the society long past. They are seen as a drain on resources; kind of a triage situation. The society can no longer support everyone, so they concentrate on saving those who can return to usefulness.

rahm visits william and completely deflates him while informing william about dzierzon’s hives and work. why does william continue to value rahm’s opinion and crave his support?

I really don’t understand this about William at all! Rahm is not a nice person. While his information and evaluation about the hives was valid, he was vicious in the manner he chose to convey his thoughts. He seemed intent not upon helping William to revise his invention and succeed, but instead chose to destroy his confidence and his dreams. I’m not sure why William still had so much respect for Rahm’s opinion. I suppose he had low self-esteem.

george has suffered colony collapse and has lost 26 of his colonies - he tries to get a bank loan to rebuild, but is declined and asked to consider gareth green’s model. how do george and gareth differ in their methods and beliefs?

George seems much more ‘hands-on’ than Garth. George is content to have an avocation he loves that makes enough money to support himself and is happy with the lifestyle he leads. Garth is much more business-oriented, wanting to grow his business, and also wanting a more affluent lifestyle. He doesn’t seem to care about the bees as much except in relation to their ability to make him money. He gets no pleasure out of being ‘hands-on’, and therefore is willing to buy commercial hives because they are more cost-efficient than it would be to build his own.

what sort of impression are you developing through tao’s experiences in beijing?

Beijing is on the verge of total collapse, unable to support its people. The infrastructure is dying.

at this stage, is the story feeling hopeful? do each of the three main characters exhibit hope? how? why?

I am an optomist, so for me, the story is hopeful, because I believe things will end will. However, I’m not sure the characters are particularly hopeful at this point.

George has just lost his colonies and hives, and he has lost his dream of his son joining him in the family business. He has just been rejected for a bank loan. There is probably hope buried in him, once he has had time to process the rejection and come up with a plan B, but right now I think he has to feel pretty hopeless.

Tao has just lost her connection with her husband, after telling him she is lost and doesn’t know where she is. She is resolved to the fact that she won’t have a second child. She falls asleep, dreaming of a childhood friend. She may be on the very of a big realization, but I don’t think she’s there yet. She has not completely lost hope, but at this reason there is no reason to be hopeful.

William may be the exception. He has been devastated by his mentor’s rejection of his accomplishments. He has lost his vision of his son being a hard-working studious young man with great ambition. He had every reason to feel hopeless — until his daughter came along and showed him that SHE is hard-working and studious, and has an idea that fires his passion for studying the bees once again.


(Jennifer D.) #57

this is a great observation, @Kim – i also wondered about kuan, and noted how differently they responded to the situation. i do wonder if tao is being propelled by her guilt… that if she had been more open to different plans for their day off, wei-wen would not have ended up in hospital.

this scene brought the handmaid’s tale to mind for me.

thank you for your great comments, kim!! :smiley:


(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #58

I like your threading together the stories of hope and loss @Kim!!


(Kim@Time2Read) #59

That’s a good point! She does feel guilty, and feels that Kaun blames her. She may feel she has to bring Wei-wen home before Kuan can forgive her.


(Jennifer D.) #60

it’s so hard to know, though… since kuan and tao don’t really talk to each other about what they are thinking or feeling. but, it was the best motivation i could think of for why tao made the choice she did.