“A wonder to be cherished: a wise, beautiful and deeply felt novel that reminds us all that it’s never too late to fall in love.” – Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives
Gail Anderson-Dargatz's accomplished second “A wonder to be cherished: a wise, beautiful and deeply felt novel that reminds us all that it’s never too late to fall in love.” – Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives
Gail Anderson-Dargatz's accomplished second novel explores the nature of relationships through the engaging heroine Augusta Olsen, whose quest for love and independence spans a lifetime. Set in the Shuswap region in the interior of British Columbia, the book is saturated with bee lore, rich domestic detail, wondrous imagery culled from rural kitchens and gardens, and shining insights into family and friendship. At its heart are the life, death, and resurrection of an extraordinary marriage.
When her mother dies, eighteen-year-old Augusta is bereft and without direction until she marries her older neighbour, Karl, and they move in with his bitter and unforgiving Swedish father. Karl is shy and taciturn, “missing a certain quality of imagination,” and there is little romance in the marriage. A young woman with an eye for beauty and a longing for affection, Augusta finds life on the remote farm scarcely bearable. An extramarital affair with a spontaneous, mysterious man named Joe – and the parentage of the daughter she subsequently conceives – remain a secret shame that keeps Augusta in quiet despair until she rediscovers her mother's beekeeping equipment. She then begins, as TheNew York Times wrote, “to put some honey into her life.” As the strands of her life unexpectedly twist together, she sees that the recipe for restoring a marriage is not unlike an old recipe for creating bees. The story of Augusta’s life is told from old age, as she and Karl await news of their son-in-law’s brain surgery.
When Gail Anderson-Dargatz showed the manuscript of A Recipe for Beesto her divorced parents, it caused them to reconsider their sixteen-year separation. “My parents, Eric and Irene, are models for Karl and Augusta in many ways. I set out to show them how extraordinary their seemingly ordinary lives were.” She interviewed them during the writing of the book and as they read the work in progress, they began to talk about unresolved problems, such as how isolating ranch life had been for her mother. Her parents were remarried on Christmas Day, 1998, some fifty years after their first marriage.
For A Recipe for Bees, Anderson-Dargatz was nominated for the prestigious Giller Prize, which was won that year by a writer she greatly admires, Alice Munro. Her internationally acclaimed first novel, The Cure for Death by Lightning, was also nominated for the Giller, and won a handful of other awards. Since being published to critical acclaim in 1998, A Recipe for Bees has become a bestseller in Canada and Great Britain, and has been translated into several languages. Augusta Olsen has been compared to one of Canadian literature’s most memorable heroines, Margaret Laurence’s Hagar Shipley, as well as to the protagonist of Carol Shields’ The Stone Diaries. But Anderson-Dargatz has a depth and maturity all her own. With her wild sense of the humour and magic of life, she creates a moving celebration of the endurance of love.