O Level Overtures
Q* Describe the skills needed by an effective teacher or lecturer. Which do you think are the most important? (January 1996)
The Secret Life of Bees
WOMEN's stories from Southern America have a flavour and complexity all their their own. Consider "She Flew the Coop", set in Louisiana, packed with recipes, layered with subtle twists. Or if you want to sink your teeth into a saga, there's always 'Gone with the Wind', set in Clayton County, Georgia and Atlanta, with years of tumultuous relationships woven through its pages. The dynamics between the black and white people add to whatever intrigues and issues may be there separately for each group, which only adds spice.
Sue Monk Kidd's breakthrough novel 'The Secret Life of Bees' manages to encapsulate all that in a short, heart-warming story. Set in 1960's South Carolina, the story is about 14 year old Lily Owens, whose mother was killed during a fight with Lily's father T Ray, when the gun accidentally went off in 4-year old Lily's hand. The incident has left Lily very troubled, and T Ray has become neglectful and abusive, so that their black maid Rosaleen, with her rough affection, is the only real caregiver Lily has known.
Towards the beginning of the novel, the Civil Rights Act has been passed, and Rosaleen decides to register to vote. This leads to an unpleasant confrontation with three of the county's biggest racists, and it is a sign of the prevailing attitudes despite the act that Rosaleen is arrested and viciously beaten in jail, so that she ends up in the hospital. Lily, who has been arrested along with Rosaleen, is bailed out by T Ray, who goes on to tell her that her mother had abandoned her. This sets something off in the girl's head, and in what acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert calls a 'Huck Finn adventure for women' she springs Rosaleen from jail, and the two hightail it out of their home-town with the vague intention of finding a place called Tiburion, which is engraved in a statuette of a Black Madonna that once belonged to Lily's mother. After a night spent in the woods, and a few interesting interactions, they find the place, and then fate and the label on a jar of honey lead them to the Boatwright residence.
This place is the hub of a flourishing honey-making business run by three black sisters, August, May and June Boatwright, and they are somehow connected to Lily's mother. Despite reservations on Rosaleen's part, and some very palpable resentment from June Boatwright, Lily begins to live with them, and this is where the story really takes off into a journey of prejudices, acceptance and self-discovery. The backdrop of racial tensions only creates an interesting foil for a culture, rich in love and lore, which Lily discovers in the Tiburion community. The fact that T. Ray is hunting for his daughter, and working up to a dangerous rage, lends a touch of suspense. You'll have to read the book (or watch the movie, starring Dakota Fanning) to know what happens.
Once again, this is principally a read for women, and as such, the writing is strongly female. Kidd's storytelling is sometimes rather idealistic, but not without its moments of pain, so that it takes on the quality of a fable. As sweet as the honey described in the books, The Secret Life of Bees is a very pleasant read.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
The mosquito flew off unharmed. Unfortunately, so did sleep.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
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