Despite its name, “The Secret Life of Bees” (2001) by American author Sue Monk Kidd has little to do with bees. It tells the life story of Lily Owens, whose memory is marred by the death of her mother when Lily was just a young girl in the mid-1960s.
An only child, Lily is abused by her father, who runs a peach orchard in the US. state of South Carolina, on which she is forced to work. One day she decides to run away from home after finding clues that link her mother’s past with the family maid, Rosaleen.
In search of information about her mother, and with only a bottle label her mother left in a secret box to guide her, Lily sets out on a journey that leads her to a bee farm in a different part of the state. There, she helps three sisters keep bees and make honey.
The sisters’ diverse personalities ensure Lily’s life is never dull from then on. The eldest is the wise one, managing the whole farm. The middle one is eccentric, dissolving into tears over the smallest thing, while the youngest is musically talented.
This tale of a little white girl born at the beginning of the black civil rights movement in the US conveys many interesting insights. Though revolving around Lily, the book sheds light on the lives of African-Americans and their struggle for the right to vote and make a decent living.
As the girl grows up on the farm, inevitably she goes through the various phases of life, first falling in love, then struggling to prove to one of the sisters that she is worthy, later overcoming the death of a loved one and finally dealing with her father after he finds out where she has been.
This is a must read book for lovers of fiction with a rural setting. The story was made into a film in 2008 starring Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Alicia Keys and others noted stars. I would strongly recommend this book for those interested in getting a taste of black American life.