Monday, February 27, 2012

Reflections: The Secret Life of Bees

I’m bereft of words to describe or share all the beauty of this book. Being so popular, this book needs little introduction. It’s the story of Lily Owens - a teenager yearning for forgiveness, closure, and motherly love. Lily’s earliest memories as a child is the tragic accident of her mom’s death. Her mother’s death leaves her shattered in more than one way. Living with her unkind, embittered dad and being “raised” by an African-American woman, Rosaleen, Lily is a complete misfit at school and in her neighborhood. She embalms her hurt and yearning by slipping into a carefully constructed fantasy in which she is forgiven, and loved, and loved, and loved till the end of eternity. When Rosaleen gets into trouble and is threatened to be killed, Lily finally snaps her thread of connection with her father and runs away from home along with Rosaline. One of the very few precious memorabilia she has of her mom is a statue of a Black Mary with her mom’s inscription -- “Tiburon, South Carolina”. So, that’s where she goes; in a blind, crazed, desperate need to find any bits of her mother’s past. As if she was meant to be on this journey, she finds August Boatwright - the warm, wise, beekeeper and entrepreneur of Black Madonna Honey. Lily convinces August to take her and Rosaline into her home for a while. Along with August and her two sisters, Lily begins a renewed life - a life where her fears are slowly put to rest, she learns to exorcise the ghosts of her past and reach a state of forgiveness, acceptance, and love.

From start to finish, this is a thoroughly poignant and beautiful story. The tale is set during the time of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Despite the newly passed law that racial discrimination is illegal, there is still tension, violence, and nonacceptance by rigid members of the society. Being white, Lily Owens lives within a safe brood of kind African-American women and wonders why there is so much fuss surrounding skin color. With this societal tension in the background and Lily’s personal turmoil at the forefront, the story weaves in and out of these two parallel threads to knit a beautiful and memorable set of characters. I can’t find a better adjective other than “beautiful”.

The characters are so effortlessly developed with so much nuance that I wanted to pack my toothbrush and go in search of a pink house in Tiburon, South Carolina, and live with all of them. August Boatwright infuses so much calmness, strength, wisdom and faith, I didn’t want to be reminded that she was fictional. It’s been a long time since I came across fictional characters with so much realism and appeal that I was sad to finish the book. It was also refreshing that Lily’s growth wasn’t shown in the regular “coming-of-age” light; her growth was more spiritual and all-rounded. Lily evoked a strong gush of emotions in me through her simple, deep, and touching narration. The author, Sue Monk Kidd needs to be credited for all of this, of course. I loved her writing. It’s very easy to go overboard with the multitude of emotions throbbing in this story, but her writing (in Lily’s voice) is neither overdone with superfluous emotions and insights, nor is it understated through a crude, matter-of-fact approach. She treads a beautiful balance here, bringing about just the right amounts of emotion, insight, and even casual humor!

I savored reading every line of this memorable story. The bond between a mother and child is one of the most unique, joyous, loving yet painful, and complicated relationships that Nature has devised. It’s ironic that there’s always as much joy as pain in this relationship. Lily’s story deals with all the complexities that make people stray from their ideal selves. But despite the world abounding with so many less-than-ideal people and relationships, all one can count on is one’s own inner-strength and faith to forgive, forget, and accept.


Karthik said...

Sounds like a great book ! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book :-) I will add it to my list too, and read it sometime :-)

Neeraja said...

Thanks Karthik :). It is really a good book.

Aparna said...

Hmm. Need to read this one. Have added it in my list at my library. Let me see if I can get down to it.

Neeraja said...

Do try it - it's very touching!