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  • Writer's pictureLisa Paul IBCLC

Book Review: The Murmur of Bees

One of my favorite pastimes is reading books and am part of a book club called the Armchair Travelers. We read historical fiction books based in different countries and will gather for a meal based on that country to discuss the book. I am the first to admit that this genre is not my preferred type of book, as history can be dark, ugly and depressing.

This month’s choice takes place in Mexico during a revolution and the Spanish flu of 1918. It does have a fair share of death, war and ugliness, and I admittedly have skimmed through a couple of chapters because they were just too heavy. However, there is a beauty of this book that compels me to write this review for mamas because of the age-old wisdom contained within.

The first chapter starts off with an amazing story of a wet nurse. While I know this is a fiction book, and the situation made up, there was such a beauty in the ability of a grieving woman to give life to many babies. It was easy for me to connect to the modern-day milk depot that I run. I collect and ship donated human milk to be fed to NICU babies. A fundamental urge most mamas have is to feed the babies, regardless of who birthed them.

For many chapters, we are taken through the turbulence of Spanish Flu, which reminded me of our current COVID-19 challenges. It was a sad and intense part of the book, and maybe for sensitive readers a time to skim quickly. Yet there was wisdom in how to resume life after isolation and tragedy. One hundred years ago people around the world were overwhelmed with death and suffering, and perhaps today’s health crisis is a reminder of how we have both progressed and stayed the same.

What I liked most about the book was beneath the conflict is an undercurrent of child raising using intuition. From the baby who is found with a cleft palate who is fed honey and goat milk with a sponge, to parenting teenage girls during a pandemic, to letting the natural inclinations and strengths of children to lead them, it was refreshing to read of the freedom these fictional children experienced. I recognized many of my own thoughts as a mother, from the unsureness of new mamahood to the challenges of children growing into adults and wondering who they have become. I also hope that more parents could be like the godparents in this book, who recognized the special skills that Simonpio possessed and instead of squashing them, gave him the tools to explore those skills.

This is the moment my old age begins. Starting today, my brain will stop tolerating new ideas, my taste in clothing will stop evolving, my hairstyle will remain the same forevermore, I will read and reread the novels that brought me pleasure in my youth with nostalgia, and I will let the next generation—whom I no longer understand because I only speak “Old”—make my decisions for me, because I have nothing to teach them anymore. I’ll be company for everyone, but little more than that for anyone.

For those of us who are past child-raising, this quote by the main character Beatriz reminded me of why I do not want the year I turn 50 to be the moment my old age begins. She reminds me that I want to experience new things and continue to grow and evolve into a wiser version of who I am now. In full disclosure, I did not finish the book. I started it too late for the book club that happens tonight. In wisdom we do not have to finish books (or tasks or goals or education) before we share what we learned from them. That is my biggest lesson for today. It is the journey not the destination where the teaching and learning happen.

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