The Last Beekeeper
One More Chapter, Harper Collins
Review: Karen Watkins
In her debut novel, Siya Turabi uses bees as a parallel for the life of a young man who has to weigh up love and expectations, honour and duty.
In the author’s note she says she turned 40 in 2010 and had just finished her Master’s in Art Therapy when she decided to join a writing class.
In the first lesson the teacher gave them a quick exercise to do.
A childhood image of Hassan skipping across the courtyard of a Karachi house came to mind.
Eight years later she did a sustainable beekeeping course and heard that in times past people would transport bees from one town to another.
Turabi’s grandfather arrived in Karachi, Pakistan, from Hyderabad in India in 1949 with his family. This was two years after the partition of Pakistan and India.
His house was a safe haven for poets who would gather in the courtyard garden and recite their spontaneous verses. Her grandmother went blind from glaucoma before she died in 1972. Turabi has woven these memories into this beautifully crafted, poignant, heart-warming novel.
The story begins in Harikaya village in Sindh Province, Pakistan, in 1974. A deer is dying having been hit by a train. The deer belongs to the Mir. He will be unhappy if he hears about the death, so Hassan, a teenager, and his father, a poet, hide the deer in reeds near a river.
His mother is losing her eyesight and Hassan and his father set out to find special black honeybees, Apis dorsata, a species of honeybees that are rare in Pakistan today, to help her. This is a dangerous mission as the Mir has outlawed anyone entering the forest in a move to protect the wildlife living there.
It isn’t long before the Mir’s guards come looking for Hassan’s father. This throws Hassan’s scholarship, provided by the Mir, into jeopardy.
His father tries to collect some honey but fails and then disappears. Hassan wins the scholarship and encouraged by his mum, he moves to Karachi and lives at the grand house of the Mir who he believes is behind his father’s disappearance.
All Hassan thinks of is getting back home and finding the black bee honey and healing his mother’s eyesight…that is until he meets the Mir’s niece, Maryam, from London.
The detail about the bees is lengthy and repetitive. Also I did not understand how or why Hassan was able to communicate with the bees; how or why could he visit the inside of the beehive. Added to this, the mood is mystical, serious and sombre.
On the plus side, the sense of place and the descriptions kept me reading through the solid plot to a satisfactory ending.