Beekeeper Review: The Savage Family

“I repaired old hives, constructed new ones. Not standard hives, not in this family. We had our own design. The drawings hung on the wall of the dining room– framed. It was Emma who had done it. She had found the drawings in a clothes chest in the attic, where they lay because everyone in my family knew the dimensions by heart anyway. The chest, a real going-to-America trunk, could easily have been sold to an antique shop for a nice lump of cash. But it was nice to have it up there, I thought. Reminded me of where I came from. The chest had traveled across the pond from Europe, when the fist person in my family put her feet on American soil. One solitary woman. Everything stemmed from her, from this chest, from the drawings.

The Savage family are among the lead characters in the novel The History of Bees by Maja Lunde and a bunch of them keep bees. Here’s some of the relevant folk:

  • William: A man living in England in the mid-1800s, William is not a Beekeeper by trade, but does keep bees. He’s not in the game to harvest honey, his interests are in scientific research and in attempting to create a perfect hive for bees to live in. He’s also riddled with personal problems, including severe depression and general obliviousness. He sees the ultimate goal of Beekeeping as “taming” bees.
  • Charlotte: One of William’s many children, but the only one who takes an interest the bees. She helps him design the “Savage’s Standard Hive” design that will be custom-built by the lineage for the rest of their time in apiary pursuits. She’s basically a living saint even before she saves the hive design plans from her despondent father and brings it with her to America.
  • George: A man living in America in the “present” (the early 2000s), George has a fairly successful operation with hundreds of hives and a couple of paid workers alongside him. But as he gets older and the industry is threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder, the weight of things gets to him and he grows bitter that his son doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps.
  • Tom: George’s son, who is a skilled Beekeeper helping around the family’s farm, but who goes off to university and wants to be a writer. It’s only the significance of the CCD threat that finally pulls him back into the family business, and though the struggle to keep the bees around is in vain, he does manage to write a book about Beekeeping that will be important to the future.

George is the one whose actual Beekeeping gets the most focus, and he’s also the least sympathetic of the batch, though his crankiness is, if nothing else, understandable. He’s a grumpy old man who hates change and is sexist and wants to control his son’s life. George made me realize something about Beekeeper Rage that I had not really caught before, though it is kind of obvious in hindsight: Beekeeper Rage stems from wanting to control the world around you, but failing. I’ve said before that keeping bees is an attempt to create a community that all works together. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of society looked after one another as a good Beekeeper looking after their bees? But it doesn’t always work that way and that is frustrating. But it’s “beekeeping” not “beecontrolling” and in this book we see a lot of parents who want to control their children. I have in the past, and am going to again here, marked up a Beekeeper’s rating if they come from a long tradition of Beekeeping. It’s cool. But that lineage it doesn’t have to be familial, especially if you are forcing the children into it. Instead, maybe do an apprentice situation with someone who is actually interested instead of foisting it on the kids. Support one another, don’t control them.

Reading the novel, I hadn’t expected I would be rating the family very highly. They don’t have any supernatural powers or solve murders or any of the stuff Beekeepers are supposed to do. That said, William and Charlotte do science and Tom is a skilled writer, if not as prolific as he might have been. But George is such a stick-in-the-mud Beekeeper, even though he invents a myth about bees one time to entertain Tom, he otherwise drags down the whole group with both his temper and his attempts to keep his son out of academia. But, importantly, the novel’s story is also about the world in the year 2098, long after the bees have seemingly all died and the world is basically an ongoing ecological post-apocalypse. In those bad times, when wild bees are finally found again, it’s Tom’s book that teaches people how to not kill the bees all over again and the family’s hive design comes back into use. Basically, though none of them live to see it, the Savage family save humanity. That’s gotta earn a decent rank even for a family who would otherwise be mere “normal” Beekeepers.

Four Honeycombs out of Five.

(There are other Beekeepers spread throughout the book, most notably Gareth Green, a childhood friend of George’s who gets into the industry and is more successful than George, who sees him as a jerk. He also loses most of his business to CCD. None of these ones are worth a full review because they’re just normal apiarists given little to no focus, but I note they exist for completeness sake.)

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