Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reading Bees

Caroline Smailes' Like Bees to Honey was a haunting, thought-provoking look at one mother's struggle with the loss of her child. The book follows Nina Robinson, a woman born in Malta, who left to attend college in England, where she found love, but also loss. Nina falls pregnant while unmarried and in college, disgracing her traditional Maltese Catholic family, so her father shuns her. When she returns years later with her husband and young son, hoping for a reprieve, the family disowns her, unable to forgive her for shaming them.

After years of estrangement from her family, Nina returns to the island to deal with the recent death of her mother and to finally release her dead son, Christopher. Feeling like she has lost everything--her son, her mother, her culture--she almost loses herself to the vivid spirit world surrounding her. In a hilarious and refreshing turn, Jesus arrives--in the form of a beer-swilling, toenail-painting island rockstar--and guides her back from the brink by helping her understand her guilt over Christopher's death so she can forgive herself. A colorful cast of characters from the spirit world support Jesus in this mission to save Nina, including my favorites: Tilly, an angry, foul-mouthed ghost with unresolved issues, and Elena, Nina's aunt who also left the island for love.

As in previous novels, Smailes plays around with language and visual text to good effect. Rather than distracting, these elements add to the building narrative.

Reading Like Bees to Honey was like a magical trip to an exotic world where the curtain between this world and the next is lifted and what you discover is both familiar and remarkably new. In Smailes' Malta, spirits flock to the island to heal; it is a magical place teeming with centuries of tradition and culture, where the bridge between past, present, and the future beyond intertwine.

1 comment:

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