In a time of major political change in North Africa, the beekeeper Sidi encounters a tragedy. One of his hives is torn apart, the bees there slaughtered. What follows is his attempts at saving his girls, his bees, by discovering what has happened and countering it. Alongside this comes the changes to the Nawa people, who are courted by a new political party for their new democratic vote.
Yamen Manai’s The Ardent Swarm could be seen as a book about the Arab Spring. Which is true, but I felt much more invested in the side of the book about the bees. The two stories echo each other in several ways, with the difference being that nature’s conflict is also caused by mankind, something Sidi considers near the end of the book.
The description of the bees and their way of life was artistic and informative. Perhaps my fascination with that is why I was less enthused with the sections which had less to do with the bees. Or it could have been my discomfort with the extremists, as I had a pretty good idea where the story would take that part of the tale. I did not know what might happen with the bees, therefore those passages had my attention.
Sidi was not the only POV character. There were those whose stories followed only the changing politics, two friends who take drastically different paths as their world changes around them. Sidi’s niece and her husband, who live in the city and help Sidi with his research into what is happening to his girls – then do more. For the bees!
As I have been expanding my reading horizons, the foreign cultures presented in this book felt real, despite being so far out of my own wheelhouse. If not for the very first chapter, I would have been floored hearing about computers and elevators later in the book. Actually, I still was, as I had put the very thought of iPhone so far out of my mind that I felt transported much more than ten years passed. It is easy to forget the drastic pendulum of “modernity”.
Which is why the section about Japan was refreshing. Almost not for everything that happened there, but because a lot of what happened earlier really felt like a statement against modern technology. I have to admit progress does bring out some terrible things, but that’s not because progress is terrible.
Admittedly, I can guess a lot of people might have problems with this book. From its message to the focus on the bees, some might find it dry. Others might be angry because political messages in books always make someone angry. For those with interest in bees or an interest in North Africa, pick it up. Especially for the bees, I promise you won’t be disappointed.