Of bees and men

the Bees by Laline Paull (2014)
 Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, the lowest of the low in the hive. Flora surprises the priestesses when she can speak and produce Flow, so they give her a job in the nursery. Accept, obey, serve is the slogan of the hive and they all work hard so the Queen will rule and give birth to their beloved sisters or brothers. The Queen is the only one who is allowed to produce offspring and those who disobey or mate are instantly killed by the Fertility Police. Flora is very devoted to the Queen and does her best to follow the strict rules of the hive, but then she produces an egg.

 The book is promoted as a mix between A Handmaid’s Tale and the Hunger Games. The latter part worried me, but thankfully there’s only the same desire of survival. But there’s the same feminist message in the Bees as in A Handmaid’s Tale. I really enjoyed those parts where they hailed to the Holy Mother and danced around with penises in their mouths.

It started as a slow read for me, especially because I felt like the chapters were written poorly, but fortunately the writing got better the further I got, and I ended up really enjoying it. I was definitely fascinated by the story and the lives of bees. Another part I really liked was the dancing routines, which is supposedly something bees do.

I’m hoping this will be translated into Norwegian because I think this will be the perfect book for my sister. And if you want to save the bees and have a garden, here’s a list of plants they like.

nineteen.

the Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö (2011)
 In order to earn easy money and buy his son a pair of football boots, Vatanescu from Romania,  signs a contract with a Russian human trafficker, Yegor Kugar, who quickly puts him on the streets of Helsinki as a beggar. Vatanescu is crafty and discovers that a lot of edible food is thrown into dumpsters and is feasting on the food when Yegor discovers it. Yegor is furious and sacks Vatanescu, but Vatanescu fights back and runs away with a lot of money.

And then Vatanescu saves the rabbit from a group of angry men. Together they travel through Finland, wherever their luck takes them.

The story is entertaining and I really felt sorry for Vatanescu and really hoped that he finally could buy those football shoes for his son. And it was also interesting to read the narrative of Yegor. It became disappointing towards the end, and I think the part about the political party was a bit too much over the top. But I forgave everything when I came to the last page. Perfect ending.

I stumbled upon this book at Waterstones in Edinburgh and it was the perfect companion to three meals and many glasses of wine. The Beggar and the Hare is a modern rewrite of the Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna, where Vatanen injures a hare and then they go into the Finnish wilderness together. I read that book six years ago while living in Finland and I really enjoyed it. Read it before reading this.

forty-five, forty-six: maddaddam

Oryx & Crake (2003), MaddAddam (2013) by Margaret Atwood

 ““What if they get out? Go on a rampage? Start breeding, then the population spirals out of control – like those big green rabbits?”
“That would be a problem,” said Crake. “But they won’t get out. Nature is to zoos as God is to churces.”
“Meaning what?” said Jimmy. He wasn’t paying close attention, he was worrying about the ChickieNobs and wolvogs. Why is it he feels some line has  been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far?”

Jimmy, or the Snowman as the Crakers call him, is the only man left after the human population has been wiped out due to a virus. The Crakers are a specie designed in a gene-lab by Crake; they are perfect and lack the destructive tendencies of mankind. Snowman tells them stories about how Oryx and Crake made the world. But although the world is free of men, there are other human-made dangers, like the wolvogs and pigoons – enormous pigs with human organs and cells.

While telling the story in the present day, we also get a glimpse of what Jimmy’s life used to be, and who Crake is. The second book in the trilogy, the Year of the Flood, happens at the same time as Oryx & Crake, but at a different place in the same city, and with Ren and Toby as the narrators. MaddAddam starts when Jimmy meets Ren and Toby and then finally takes the story forward. You also get to learn the story of Zeb. The stories of the characters are really fascinating and definitely my favourite part of the trilogy. I also like how MaddAddam is built-up like a bible for the Crakers, and I just adored the Crakers, especially Blackbeard.

I read the trilogy as a critique of how the humans are abusing the planet’s resources and how the technology will destroy us all if we aren’t careful. And it is (of course) set in a totalitarian state. I have read a couple of dystopian novels and this trilogy is high on my list of favourites. Thanks to a week on the couch, I read them all in a couple of days and they turned into some pretty vivid dreams.

I read Oryx and Crake when it was published 10 years ago, but I felt that I needed to reread it after reading the Year of the Flood. What I really like is that it doesn’t matter which one you read first. And I found it easier to read the Year of the Flood first, then Oryx and Crake. Although MaddAddam has a recap of the two other books, I strongly recommend to read them!

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors, and I’m glad I still haven’t read her most famous works, so I have something to look forward to. She’s also one of my favourites for the Nobel prize.  

forty-three.

the Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)
 “As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swath of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it’s been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef – bleached and colourless, devoid of life. There is still life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be. Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there’s no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice the quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier?”

Year 25 in the Gardeners’ calendar; the year of the waterless flood. The year which wiped out most of the human race. Toby is a survival at a spa, where she lives off the organic food and the rooftop garden. Another survivor is Ren, who has been locked in an isolated room at the sex shop where she works as it is suspected that she is unclean. Both women have been members of the Gardeners – a religious eco-cult. 

This is the second book in the MaddAddam-trilogy, and it’s almost a decade since I read the first book, Oryx and Crake, which I barely remember, but remember as difficult to grasp until the end. And that’s probably why it has taken so long before I started on this one (and because the final book has just been published). the Year of the Flood is a lot more easier to read. Im really curious about how the trilogy is going to end. But first I’m going to reread Oryx and Crake.

one.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
 
“Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd, 1977, in Pacific, four days out of Manila. Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.

Pi grew up in a zoo as his father was the director and he spent the days learning about animals. He was also very interested in faith and shocked his family and teachers by practising Islam, Hinduism and Christianity at the same time. His family decides to migrate to Canada when the situation in India became troubled and they sell off the animals to various zoos. Some of the animals are going to zoos in America and they are therefore on the same cargo ship which the Patel family set out for Canada with. But the cargo ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, monkey and Richard Parker, the enormous tiger.

Seeing the film trailer every where at Christmas, I decided that it was time to reread the book. I remember that I really enjoyed the book the first time around, and although I remember the setting, there were lots I had forgotten.

It is certainly still a good tale, but I found the days on the sea rather repeating and boring. But then I guess that’s what it’s like on the sea. I still haven’t decided which of the two versions of the story in the end that I believe is the true one.

fifty-seven.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (2012)
 “A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture. Or so it seemed for now, to a woman with flame-colored hair who marched uphill to meet her demise. Innocence was no part of this. She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how one hard little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of a long disgrace.”
Dellaroba is walking uphill, away from the damned farm owned by her parents-in-law, to have an affair in the wettest autumn in living memory. She got pregnant in high school and married the boy, and then year later she is having inappropriate thoughts about other men. But when she gets up that hill and sees something which resemble a lake of fire above the trees, she flees back again, taking it as a sign of God.
The lake of fire turns out to be a massive gathering of monarch butterflies, which when it makes the headlines, puzzle scientists and bring tourists from near and far to the small community in Appalachia. 
I wished this book would never end because it’s one of the best I have read this year. I love Dellaroba and her struggling family. I especially liked the conversations Dellarobia had with her best friend, Dovey, they are witty. And one of the many things that made the book so great is the humour which shines through although the conditions are very severe.

Kingsolver has done a great job mixing religion, faith and science. It’s one of those books which give you so much knowledge that you feel like a student while reading it and a professor when you are finished. I learnt as much about the Bible as about monarch butterflies, and if I hadn’t studied it, I’d have learnt a lot about climate change too. 

But the thing which hit me hardest was the hardships of the family. The state of their poverty and the struggle to make ends meet. It was a truly perfect read after the Casual Vacancy, both being political and works I’d classify as social realism. It is also strange to read books that are so up do date; they mention Facebook, smart phones and Wikipedia, and I can’t help wondering what people in a 100 years or more would think about our world today.

“A million dead butterflies, she said. Sorry as hell they ever landed here.”

twenty-six.

 If animals were more like us,
if mice kept pets and toads could cuss,
if dogs had wives and chipmunks dated,
sheep sat still and meditated,
then in the forest, field and dairy
you might find this bestiary,
read by storks, by rats and kitties,
skimmed by cows with milk-stained titties.
“I found this book to be most droll,”
might quip the bear, the owl, the mole.
Others, though, would be more coarse.
“Bull,” could say the pig and horse.
As to the scribe, they’d quote the hen:
“Trust me, he’s no La Fontaine.”
  This is a remarkable collection of short stories told by animals. They talk and swear, eat and live like humans, and most of them end up dead.
Each story is simply amazing and I have gone to bed very cheerful thanks to this book on my night stand.The stories are also beautifully illustrated by Ian Falconer and that makes this book one of my most cherished. 
I can’t really pick a favourite, but I laughed a lot while reading the Grieving Owl, about an owl which lets its prey go if he can learn something new which eventually leads him to a hippo with leeches in its anus. And then it’s the Vigilant Rabbit, where the rabbit goes on a killing spree while guarding the forest. 
Possible a new favourite and is definitely going to be read again! (Note to self: check out other David Sedaris books.)

twenty-one.

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee (2008)
Benjamin Mee and his family are living comfortably in France when his sister sends him the ad for the sale of the run-down Dartmoor Zoo. And with the help of his mother and siblings, he is able to buy it. But buying the zoo and getting the zoo to pass the inspection and to be ready for opening are two different things. Although they found the money to buy the zoo, they have hardly any money to get it ready and running. And in all this, his wife, Katherine got cancer and is getting worse.
It was a quick and easy read. And the story moved me, I kept hoping that everything would turn out okay in the end. But the writing was not the best I have read, maybe I’m starting to expect too much from the books I read. And I wish the animals could be more in focus, I didn’t really get a good description of the zoo and most of its inhabitants. The big cats are all well described, but others are just barely mentioned. And I wouldn’t mind at all a better description of the conservation part of the zoo, and it was a bit disappointing that this book only dealt with the beginning of it all.
The book has been made into a film, although it is set in the US. I’m sure that the film is going to be focusing more on the relationship between the people and animals.
Dartmoor Zoological Park and Benjamin Mee have also been made into a tv show, called Ben’s Zoo. And from the look of the website, it looks like it’s going well. If I’m ever at that part of the world, I’ll definitely pay it a visit.

sixty-three.

the Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago (2008)
 
The elephant, Solomon, and his keeper, Subhro, are journeying from Lisbon to Vienna in the 1550s. Solomon is a gift from the Portuguese king to the Hapsburg archduke.

The journey of Solomon is a true story, but José Saramago has invented the details about the trip. I enjoyed parts of the books, there were even sentences I found hilarious. But most of the book is sadly boring descriptions about the journey. I would have wanted more fiction, maybe a few amazing conversations between the men taking part of the journey. 
A few years ago I read Blindness and loved it. And I think that’s why I’m so disappointed by the Elephant’s Journey.

thirteen.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002)


Kafka runs away from his father on his fifteenth birthday. He takes the night bus from Tokyo and ends up in a town with an amazing private library. The man working in the reception takes pity on Kafka and when he needs a place to stay after waking up with a bloody shirt outside one day, he asks the owner of the library if Kafka can stay and work there. And then there’s Mr Nakata who can’t read or write but is able to talk with cats. He finds missing cats for his neighbours and on search for one, he stumbles upon Johnnie Walker who collects souls from cats and Nakata ends up killing Johnnie Walker. After confessing to a police man who do not believe Nakata’s strange story, he leaves Tokyo and ends up in the same town as Kafka.

I have had a hard time trying to understand and describe the events in this book. There is a lot of strange things going on and I found it hard to follow at times. What kept me reading was the characters, and especially Mr Nakata and the cats. But I have no idea what really happened in the end.

This book was a bit disappointing after falling in love with Norwegian Wood. But for some strange reason it made me want to reread the Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov again.