Book review: The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

I haven’t written for a while because it’s been a difficult few weeks. My little boy, Tommy, was very ill, first diagnosed with pneumonia and then with pericardial effusion – excess fluid around the heart. He needed an emergency operation in Bristol, a few hours away from where we live. He was in hospital nine days in the end, and is still on antibiotics, but the very kind and efficient healthcare pros in our fantastic NHS fixed him and made him into a happy, healthy toddler again.

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde – available from Amazon and independent book shops

The history of bees by Maja Lunde

The history of bees by Maja Lunde

I’ve managed to do some reading since we got back from Bristol. This book is one I found in our local library. It features three intertwined stories, from the past, present and future – a future without bees.

In Sichuan, China, 2098, Tao labours all day to hand pollinate fruit trees: a job once done by bees. Her main joy in life comes from the one precious hour she gets each day with her three year old son, Wei-Wen. But their lives are about to be hit by tragedy.

In Hertfordshire, England, 1851, William is a failed scientist turned seed-shop owner who has taken permanently to his bed. However, unexpected inspiration and hope is to come.

In Ohio, USA, 2007, ageing pro-beekeeper George struggles to accept that his son is uninterested in carrying on with the family business. Where does the future of the business lie?

All the main characters suffer difficult, devastating events, which are slowly revealed to have a common theme. At times I found the book emotionally gruelling to read, particularly the parts featuring Tao and her toddler son Wei-Wen. Luckily Lunde gives the reader some relief by ending the tale positively, with hope for the human race – if we can only learn from past history. We have already been given a warning. The book is fictional, but inspired by real events – the fruit farmers in the orchards of Sichuan do indeed painstakingly pollinate their crop by hand.

Interviews with Beekeepers

Next year I’m looking forward to the publication of Steve Donohoe’s Interviews with Beekeepers, which will feature “interviews with legendary beekeepers from around the world”.  I recommend following Steve’s blog, The Walrus and the Honeybee – his most recent post, Bee Farmers: What do you fear? is particularly fascinating. I certainly fear Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus even more than before now!

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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35 Responses to Book review: The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

  1. sleather2012 says:

    Glad that your son is better. I saw someone reading this book on the train a year or so ago and was intrigued by the title. Ad you say, a book that is certainly not escapist, but with a vision of hope at the end.


  2. David says:

    Hi Emily
    Nice to be namechecked by Pete Little in the interview with Steve Donohoe. Don’t be too worried about CBPV … it is an increasing problem but it’s nothing like the scale of Varroa/DWV. Bee farmers have problems with it because they’re really good at managing very, very strong colonies (to make masses of honey) – ideal conditions for a virus transmitted by bee-to-bee contact. In my own hives I’ve only seen it once in a decade. It appears to be increasing in other countries as well, so we’re not alone. Time will tell if it’s “simply” a more virulent strain of the virus or if something else is contributing to the increased incidence of disease – colony management methods, other pathogens that increase susceptibility or whatever.
    Glad your son is OK. These things are always worrying. Great to hear positive things about the NHS which has always been my experience as well.


    • Emily Scott says:

      That’s good to hear. Do you agree with Pete that CBPV is not varroa related? I was a bit surprised by that as I thought I’d read in the past that varroa help transmit the virus.

      I was amazed at how quickly the hospital staff sprung into action after the heart scan revealed the fluid round Tommy’s heart. Something like an hour later they put us on an ambulance to Bristol, then we were seen by a cardiologist within about half an hour when we arrived there at night, then Tommy’s operation was scheduled in the next morning. They didn’t mess about. And very kind too.


  3. Sting In The Tale is a great read. I actually spoketohim ‘re the Short Haired Bumble bee. We found one in Woolwich London and he was surprised but pleased it was an early sighting of this once almost extinct bee in UK.


  4. Having a poorly child is horrendously frightening. Sending hugs and best wishes for a speedy recovery. Katie x


  5. Walrus says:

    Sorry to hear of your son’s illness & pleased he is healthy again. Somebody gave me that History of Bees book but I haven’t read it yet.
    Also thanks so much for mentioning my blog and forthcoming book! 🙂


  6. mcfwriter says:

    Hi, Emily – first, let me say how glad I am to hear that Tommy is all right. What a terrible scare for you and your husband! TG for modern medicine!
    Second, I do hope you read this book AFTER Tommy’s illness and surgery! I read the book a few months back and thoroughly enjoyed it (actually a recorded version, so I listened to it while I commuted back and forth to work). It was very hard to read in places, especially when Tao finally finds her son, but her whole journey was harrowing. And the story of George and his son, and William and his daughter (that part was hard to read too – how he was so dismissive of his daughter and her intelligence and interest, simply because she wasn’t a son), were very well done, and I really like how Lunde tied it all together at the end.
    Best regards, Maureen


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Maureen. I’ve been thinking a lot about what might have happened before modern medicine, I can’t imagine that Tommy would have made it without the operation. I did read the book after his illness, so really felt for Tao during the hospital scenes and just generally since Tommy is a similar age. I couldn’t have read it while he was still ill for sure! It was hard not to feel angry with William for being so unappreciative of his daughter at first.


  7. madeline248 says:

    So glad your little one ok

    On Thu, 13 Dec 2018, 21:37 Adventuresinbeeland’s Blog Emily Scott posted: “I haven’t written for a while because it’s been a > difficult few weeks. My little boy, Tommy, was very ill, first diagnosed > with pneumonia and then with pericardial effusion – excess fluid around the > heart. He needed an emergency operation in Bristol, a fe” >


  8. Erik says:

    Thanks for the review, Emily. Heartbreaking to hear about the ordeal with your son, so glad that he is doing well.

    There is a 2014 article in Wired about hand-pollinating in China. Still think it is an interesting read:

    Take care.


  9. I’m so glad to hear your son is doing okay – difficult few weeks indeed! Thank you for the book review/recommendation; I’ll add it to my Christmas wish list and hope someone in the house hasn’t finished their shopping yet. 😉 Have a peaceful and joyous holiday!


  10. Alan Jones says:

    Hi Emily, So sorry to hear about Tommy, glad he is getting better. Happy and healthy Christmas to you all.


  11. I’m sorry to hear about your son! That sounds terrifying. I’m so glad he’s okay and all fixed up. 🙂


  12. Oh Emily how awful for all of you! It’s so very difficult to see one’s children unwell. I am very glad to hear Tommy is doing well. I hope the three of you have a happy and restful Christmas. Best Wishes.


  13. David C says:

    Sorry your son has been ill, glad he’s doing better now.


  14. Jane Simmonds says:

    Sorry to hear about your son, it must have been so frightening. Thank goodness for the NHS. Thanks for the review – will add to my wish list 🙂


  15. I wish the family a very happy and healthy Christmas. Amelia


  16. Thanks for the book review. I will add this to my reading list. I’m glad Tommy is doing better. That experience must have been awful. Best wishes from the US. 🙂


  17. theresagreen says:

    What a frightening ordeal for you Emily; I hope your little one’s properly back on track by now and that you’re all enjoying the delights of his full recovery. You’ve come up with some interesting and eclectic reading material there- do you think some of the problems faced by ‘kept’ bees is down to the scale and intensity with which it is done, similar to those faced by intensively farmed animals?


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Theresa. It’s really great seeing Tommy running around and enjoying life again. There were a few weeks before he was diagnosed when he became more and more tired, until he wouldn’t even walk from one room to another in our house and I had to carry him everywhere. So it’s lovely to see him almost out-running me now. Today we were out bee spotting!

      I’m sure you’re right about the scale and intensity causing problems. Colonies moved around for pollination (not so much in this country, more places like the US) get a monotonous diet of just one type of nectar & pollen for weeks at a time. The stress of being trucked around too. And many different colonies suddenly meeting in a new area when they’re brought in for pollination is a recipe for spreading disease. But even when colonies are kept less intensively by small scale beekeepers they face potential problems like loss of forage and pesticides.


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