Hello again, friends! How are you? I hope you are healthy – physically, spiritually, and mentally. I hope you are taking care of yourselves, and that you have lots of great books to take your mind off things.
Since I last posted, our elementary school officially closed through the end of this school year. A more robust plan for remote lessons is forthcoming, and every email I open about the next phase of home education brings me a fresh bout of anxiety. I spend my evenings figuring out what “school” will look like the next day. By the time the kids are asleep, and the lesson plan for the following day is organized, this “teacher-mom” is beat!
Though, I’m proud to say that school at home is going really well overall – largely thanks to our superstar elementary teachers who worked exhaustively to scrabble together remote learning resources and assignments for all their students. The thing that is not going well? Quiet solitude. There is very little time in the day for reading (other than children’s books with the kids), or for writing book reviews. Our vacation to Mexico was more than a month ago, and I haven’t even finished posting my vacation reads!
So while the kids are each doing some independent school work, I’m going to try to squeeze in a fast review of my favorite vacation read, The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia. (Side note – my youngest interrupted me as I was writing that last sentence – must type faster before next interruption).
First up, the synopsis… Set in a small Mexican village during the early 1900’s, the story begins with a baby found under a bridge, covered in bees, miraculously unharmed. The baby is brought to the home of a nearby family, who adopts him and his hive of bees. As baby Simonopio grows up, it becomes clear that he has uncanny sensitivities. He communicates with his hive, and foresees how important events will unfold in the town. When the 1918 Spanish influenza hits, Simonopio becomes indispensable to his adoptive family.
When I purchased this book for vacation, I didn’t actually notice it was set during the Spanish influenza. At the time of our trip, the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining ground. It was a singular experience to read a book set during an historical epidemic, whilst living in the midst of a global health crisis. I know that some of my enjoyment of this book was due to its timeliness; the lovely coincidence of this particular book finding me at just the right moment in my life, its plot somewhat mirroring current events.
On the other hand, I would have enjoyed it even without the connection of history to current affairs. It is beautifully written. Take, for example, this description of the family home:
“It was a living house, the one that saw me born. If it sometimes gave off the scent of orange blossom in winter or some unattributable giggles were heard in the middle of the night, nobody was scared: they were part of the house’s personality, of its essence. There are no ghosts in this house, my father would say to me. What you hear are the echoes it has kept to remind us of all those who’ve been here. I understood. I imagined my grandfather’s twenty-two siblings and the noise they must have made, and it seemed logical that,years later, remnants of their laughter could still be heard reverberating here or there.”
Isn’t that a lovely description for how an older house can feel alive? This book is written in a way that makes you want to slow down and savor the language.
The fact that the novel is brimming with lovely passages is a credit to both the author and the translator. Originally written in Spanish, I read the English version translated by award-winning, Simon Bruni. Finding the perfect words to convey the intention of an original work is a Herculean task, particularly with a book like this one which relies on beautiful, descriptive language. I tend to prefer translations of character or plot-driven works, because it’s easier to express character personality or replicate plot pacing, than it is to recapture the atmosphere and emotion derived from an author’s linguistic style. Bruni is clearly a translating virtuoso. I felt like I was reading an original work, not an interpretation of someone else’s words.
My only gripe was with the conclusion of this novel (don’t worry, I won’t give away anything), which ended without enough closure for my personal taste. From a literary perspective the novel had a perfectly acceptable ending; it was a purposeful ending. I just wanted more. I became attached to a couple of the characters in such a way, that I didn’t want to leave them at the conclusion of the book. I wanted to know what happened with the rest of their lives.
I can sense that I’m running out of quiet time, so I better wrap up my post. I think this is a great book for readers who want to support a diverse range of authors, readers who enjoy books rich with vivid prose, and readers interested in the era of the Mexican Revolution and Spanish influenza. For English readers, it was expertly translated. It was a beautiful story, and far and away the best book I read on vacation.