Review: The Murmur of Bees – Sofia Segovia

Bee on a sunflower

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Sofia Segovia’s The Murmur of Bees (AmazonCrossing, translated from Spanish by Simon Bruni) follows the Morales family through life in early 20th Century Mexico, including a Civil War, a World War, and the outbreak of the Spanish flu. Although I was originally given this book to review as an advance copy, I somehow missed it at the time. This has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise, with sections of the book reading particularly differently in a post-COVID world.

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As a New Zealander living in Australia, where the COVID-19 pandemic closed borders and locked everyone down to prevent the disease from spreading, the Moraleses’ return from their isolated hacienda to a world that was entirely changed seemed familiar.  For the past few years, news coverage has shown overrun health services and deaths to a level that was unknown in either New Zealand or Australia, but now that the world is opening up again, those of us from what was once labelled a “hermit kingdom” will be bewildered by, and thankful to have only a limited share in, the stories of immense loss that happened in so many other parts of the world.

The Morales’ escape from almost certain death from Spanish flu was brought about by the supernatural instincts of their godson, Simonopio; a boy with a cleft palette and an incredible affinity with the local bees. Simonopio’s peculiarities lead many of the Morales’ workers and neighbours to shun him, or even consider him a harbinger of misfortune, but when Francisco and his wife, Beatriz, have a son, Francisco Junior, Simonopio finally has a brother. Incomprehensible to anyone other than Francisco Junior, Simonopio tries to teach his brother not just his spoken language, but the language of the natural world, which gives him snippets of multiple perspectives and allows him to see things that have happened, and others that are yet to come.

Francisco Junior’s struggle to learn this otherworldly language is paralleled in the construction of the book, where parts of the story are narrated by an unidentified speaker, to an unidentified audience. As Francisco Junior comes to better understand his brother’s gift, the reader experiences their own sense of revelation where the unidentified is named and threads of different stories come together. Although this could be disorienting, the gradual clarity that came was a nice touch in connecting the reader to Simonopio’s unique life.

With its unassuming use of magical realism and focus on the rise and fall of a family’s fortunes, The Murmur of Bees bears some resemblance to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, but the scope of the novel is smaller. This brings a level of intimacy and attachment to the characters, and, despite his quirks, it is easy to be drawn to Simonopio. Although the novel spans many years, there is an innocence and simplicity to him that remains steady; a loyalty that we would all wish for in our lives.

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Overall, The Murmur of Bees is a novel full of colour, from the orange of the harvest, to the darkness of Anselmo Espiricueta’s soul. It rises and falls with the fortunes of both the Morales family and the world at large, and it does it all in a way that will capture your heart.

Thanks to AmazonCrossing for providing an advance copy of The Murmur of Bees for review. It is now publicly available for purchase.

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