Review Blog

Jan 23 2019

A honeybee heart has five openings by Helen Jukes

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Simon and Schuster, 2018. ISBN: 9781471167713.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Subtitled A year of keeping bees, Helen Jukes' book is a mix of memoir and research project. Set in Oxford, England, it tells of her decision following her move into a shared house with her friend Becky, to set up a beehive down the bottom of the garden. Jukes had previously learnt about beekeeping from her bee-enthusiast friend Luke who has hives set up all around London. Now Jukes has just started a new job which was turning out to be very stressful, and it is while she is attempting to destress in the garden that the idea occurs to her that she has the perfect spot to set up her own beehive. That thought sets in train Jukes' research into bees, because she doesn't just want a hive, she wants to learn absolutely everything she can about bees. Her curiosity has her researching ancient texts about bees, hive designs and the art of beekeeping; she joins the Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group; and she visits the entomologist archives of Oxford's natural history museum. She follows up all sorts of interesting questions such as whether you can 'know' all your bees, whether they are changed by being watched, and whether they sense your mood.
The book isn't just a research project though, in the process we learn about Jukes herself, her unusual mix of friends, and her struggles with how to manage her job and whether she should stick at it or not. And interestingly many of the questions she unravels about bees are reflected in the nuances of what is happening in her own life. In caring for bees, she is also learning about relationships and sense of community. Maybe that is something that happens if you become seriously involved in beekeeping - you can't keep at a distance, there is a deeper connection that develops. We can all learn from bees.
There have been some excellent books in recent years about bees and beekeeping: the fictional The history of bees by Maja Lunde (2017) and the non-fiction The honey factory by Jurgen Tautz and Diedrich Steen (2018). With her absorbing and original approach, Jukes provides yet another perspective on their fascinating world.
Helen Eddy

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