The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd


Viking, NY, 2002. ISBN 0670894605.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 10/04/2002

Fiction: Literary; Fiction: Multi-Cultural

What a pleasure it is to read a book full of love, hope and miracles. It is a modern fairy tale about Lily—an abused, poor white kid and the black woman who cares for the girl after her mother dies. Lily narrates the story.

The two run away from Lily's wicked father and end up in the home of three educated black sisters who are bee-keepers. There they are embraced, taught the secrets of bee-keeping and initiated into the mysteries of Our Lady of the Chains.

August, the eldest of the sisters, takes Lily to retrieve honey from the hives. She tells the girl to send love out to all the bees so as not to be stung. Lily recalls the experience:

"My breath came faster, and something coiled around my chest and squeezed tighter and tighter, until suddenly, like somebody had snapped off the panic switch, I felt myself go limp. My mind became unnaturally calm, as if part of me had lifted right up out of my body and was sitting on a tree limb watching the spectacle from a safe distance. The other part of me danced with the bees. I wasn't moving a lick, but in my mind I was spinning through the air with them. I had joined the bee conga line."

Not all is honey and spice. There is the racial tension which existed at the time [right after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act], death, a confrontation for Lily with her father, and the truth of her mother's death. But through it all, Lily and Rosaleen, her black caretaker, are wrapped in the warmth of August, her sisters and the Black Madonna in their living room—Our Lady of the Chains.

Years later, Lily speaks of the Madonna, "I feel her in unexpected moments, her Assumption into heaven happening in places inside me. She will suddenly rise and when she does, she does not go up, up into the sky, but further and further inside me. August says she goes into the holes life has gouged out of us."

This is a good book to read in these difficult times. There is hope for humanity.

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