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Hour of the Bees

Review

Hour of the Bees

Coming from the city of Albuquerque, full of friends and her robust 11-year-old social life, the move to her grandfather’s southern New Mexico sheep ranch holds no appeal for Carol. She has never met her father’s father and the dusty and forlorn land he lives on isn’t encouraging. But Sergio is suffering from the early stages of dementia and Carol, her parents, little brother and teenage half-sister are spending the summer preparing to sell the property and move Sergio into an assisted living facility. But as Carol, or Carolina as her grandfather correctly calls her, spends time on the ranch and with Sergio she learns about him --- his love for his wife Rosa, his love of the land, and the hopes and dreams he had for his family and community. What she learns causes Carol to rethink her own values and see herself and her family, her heritage and her home, in whole new ways.

HOUR OF THE BEES, the debut novel by Lindsay Eagar, is Carol’s story but it transcends the perspective of just the protagonist giving readers insight into Sergio’s beliefs and heartbreaks as Carol wrestles with identity and values.

Blending folklore, magical realism, and the usual conventions of coming-of-age stories, Eagar has penned a sweet, poignant, and moving novel.

Shortly after arriving at Sergio’s ranch, Carol can’t help but notice the bees. But her grandfather insists that there are no bees in that land anymore and that, in fact, they have been gone for decades along with the rains. What does it mean that the bees are returning and what does it mean that they seem drawn to Carol in the same way they were drawn to her larger-than-life grandmother? Sergio shares the tale of the land and of the village that used to be there, surrounding a large and majestic tree, near a refreshing lake. As a boy Sergio played in the tree with his best friend Rosa who was braver than anyone and yearned to see the great big world. They grew up and fell in love but even that love couldn’t keep Rosa home and she would set out for days, weeks, even years at a time, traveling the globe but always returning to the village and to Sergio. But her belief in the protective powers of the tree caused the village to destroy it and with the tree’s destruction, so came the destruction of the village, the land and the people until only Sergio remained. Now, Carol realizes, if the ranch is sold, her family will lose their last connection to the place that once nourished and defined them. Saving Sergio, she believes, is to save her family and bring them back into the realm of both magical  and natural possibility.

Blending folklore, magical realism, and the usual conventions of coming-of-age stories, Eagar has penned a sweet, poignant, and moving novel. Her examination of Hispanic culture in the American southwest could’ve gone farther and her depiction of New Mexico doesn’t always feel authentic, but the desert and mesas still make for a compelling and powerful setting for Carol’s story. Full of wonderfully flawed characters, HOUR OF THE BEES is a tender novel that takes a look at culture, history, nature, and all kinds of love.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 2, 2016

Hour of the Bees
by Lindsay Eagar