I got The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia for free as a part of the Amazon Prime membership last year when they still had this deal and were doing an interesting international month where top books from various countries were on the list. The name of this one sounded particularly interesting to me, as well as the blurb which pointed towards magical realism being an integral part of the story. So when this pandemic ridden year gave me enough time at hand and not enough money to spare on books, this one saw the light of the day on my beloved kindle.
Whoever remembered, said Simonopio was found with his bees. As an infant, he was saved by them, and then Nana Reja went out of her way to look for him and his bees Bringing them into the lives of Francisco Morales and his wife Beatriz Cortès. Already parents to two girls, Carmen and Consuela, it didn’t take the Morales’ family long to accept the weirdly disfigured boy and his blanket of bees into their home. Now, Godparents, Francisco, and Beatriz did everything in their might to help the Nana save the boy, who didn’t have an upper lip, and therefore, was not expected to see another day’s light. But as fate had brought Simonopio to the Morales’ household, the same fate made the little boy live well into childhood and beyond along with his ever-growing companions, the bees.
Speaking was never a problem for Simonopio, he did that. The problem was that the others never understood him. So, he stopped speaking at all. That didn’t mean he didn’t talk, he did talk to his bees, who told him anything and everything. He talked with his eyes and the movements of his head when his Godparents asked him something. He wasn’t much into human interactions anyway. He was content if his adoptive family was happy and if he could warn and save them from what he saw in the future. And he did, he did save them from the Spanish Flu, but nobody could ever pin it on him for sure. He did save his Godfather’s farmlands from the land reformer bill, but again, it wasn’t mentioned openly. He did save Beatriz from depression, but they thought it was just speculative on his part. And Simonopio, he was happy with that and the little boy who became his brother when his Godmother birthed him. Inseparable, Simonopio loved the child, and the child loved his brother back. And they talked. Yes. The elder one told many stories to the younger one, and amongst them, was the story of the coyote. The coyote, whom Simonopio knew would come to get him one day, as he had envisioned. And when that came, it would be up to Simonopio to look out for everybody. Will he be able to do that?
This was my first ever brush with magical realism, or more correctly, the first one which I read consciously knowing the genre. This was also my first read by an unknown author from a non-English speaking country, a translation that I feel must have lost some of the beauty of the prose. Written in the first and the third person, it wasn’t until I was towards the end of the book that I realized how the writing had taken shape. I must mention here, I was confused throughout but I kept on reading. This was my second attempt, and it took a lot of effort to see the end. Not that the book wasn’t good, its beauty lay in the journey and not the climax, but that the story was slow-paced, and however much I’d wanted to rush, it didn’t let me. Each chapter put me under strain to finish it off as soon as I possible and despite my years of reading at breakneck speed, I was rendered to the pace of a snail. This was the beauty I just wrote about. It forced me to read and savor. The characters, all big and small, were another beautiful thing about this book. While Simonopio was the protagonist and he had himself described well, the others weren’t subdued by his shadow. The length of the book made sure that the supporting characters had enough space and time to stretch themselves. I will give the author due credit here, it is rare that one sees such a balance in the character arches that one forgets who the lead is, in a good way.
My first impression of the book was bleh. “What have I gotten myself into!” I had thought. But with no other interesting book at hand, I had to push myself to read this one. Also, I had already invested a lot of time, so I’d rather see if it changed my views or not. Did it? More or less, yes. As I slowed my pace, I started enjoying more. All of it. The people, the places, the stories, the local habits and practices, I started to feel an urge to travel and visit the place. Lol. So much for taking an interest and trying to end up loosening my purse strings. Nevertheless, I reached the end and the abruptness of it left me sore. It was open-ended, yes, such books tend to be, but I had started to look forward to closure after being with the characters for so long. I was really heartbroken at all the questions I had and at the author.
This book would be best enjoyed in leisure, a journey to take with the narrator as he brings alive the story of his past.