11 Apr 2014

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

I was never a fan of contemporary literature. Not because I didn't like it, but simply because I just never read it. I thought: it can never be as good as classics, which was a view imposed by my literature teacher at school, a harry-potter-hater. And so I never really tried how it tastes.

Well, The Secret Life of Bees tastes like honey. It is a sweet, viscous consistency of words that had a liberating, soothing effect on me. Sue Monk Kidd writes in a gorgeous language, using simple words that have a great power.

At first glance, the plot of the story looks a bit unoriginal: another coming-of-age story, another Bildungsroman. The main motifs are plain and unpretentious, and the end is quite predictable - a girl sets off on a quest to find truth about her long-dead mother, and she does, and eventually she even discovers for herself something more significant than that. On her way to finding the 'truth', Lily (that's her name), a tragic optimist and a naive believer, goes through things that may be even eye-rolling for some of the readers: first life-turning menstruation, first can-never-be-together love, dealing with an abusing father who lost his ability to love and withdrew into himself, and another set of cliches. Plus, the background motif of black people fighting for their rights is also quite hackneyed.

But. All these cliche stories touching upon the commonly known questions that have been on the table for no less than eternity already are so moving that it is simply impossible not to fall under their charm. And 'simply' is a determining word when it somes to this novel.

I like the simple idea conveyed in the book (which I define as a 'quest for independence') that in order to fully mature, it is necessary to find confidence and drive within, and stop seeking and craving for other people's acceptance. Accept yourself first. Love yourself first, forgive yourself first, cherish yourself first, and then the whole world will repeat after you, like a reflection in the mirror. This is what the real faith is. And Lily learns that this real faith is not hidden behind some certain symbols; instead, these symbols of faith can be anything else - a black Madonna, a bee-hive, a stone wall. Or Rosaleen's pancakes.

I also like how symbolically Sue Monk Kidd drew a parallel between the life of bees and life of humans. In the ancient times, the bees were considered to be a symbol of life, death and rebirth which is everything Lily underwent once she ran away from home and started a new life in the honeyland.

I love the simplicity of The Secret Life of Bees. It is exactly what makes the book so complex and so interesting - Sue Monk Kidd took everything we all already knew and mashed it up together in a unique combination that proposed a new, fresh, and a strong perspective on some everlasting things. And ultimately changed my views on the value of contemporary literature.

PS. Did you know that honey can be purple?

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