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A Recipe for Bees

by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

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contemporary women, family life
list price: $21.00
edition:Paperback
category: Fiction
published: 1999
ISBN:9780676972412
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada
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Awards
  • Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
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Description

International Bestseller

Shortlisted for the 1998 Giller Prize

A Globe and Mail Notable Book of 1998

Over 40,000 copies sold in hardcover

In A Recipe for Bees, Gail Anderson-Dargatz gives readers a remarkable woman to stand beside Hagar Shipley and Daisy Goodwin — but Augusta Olsen also has attitude, a wicked funny bone, and the dubious gift of second sight.

At home in Courtenay, B.C., Augusta anxiously awaits news of her dearly loved son-in-law Gabe, who is undergoing brain surgery miles away in Victoria. Her best friend Rose is waiting for Augusta to call as soon as she hears. Through Rose, we begin to learn the story of Augusta's sometimes harsh, sometimes magical life: the startling vision of her mother's early death; the loneliness of her marriage to Karl and her battle with Karl's detestable father, Olaf. We are told of her gentle, platonic affair with a church minister, of her not-so-platonic affair with a man from the town, and the birth of her only child. We also learn of the special affinity between Rose and Augusta, who share the delights and exasperations of old age.

Just as The Cure for Death by Lightning offers recipes and remedies, A Recipe for Bees is saturated with bee lore, and is full of rich domestic detail, wondrous imagery culled from rural kitchens and gardens, shining insights into ageing, family and friendship. And at its heart, is the life, death and resurrection of an extraordinary marriage

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Excerpt

From Chapter One

"Have I told you the drone's penis snaps off during intercourse with the queen bee?" asked Augusta.

"Yes," said Rose. "Many times."

Before Augusta dragged her luggage upstairs to the apartment, before she checked on the welfare of her elderly husband, Karl, even before she hugged and greeted her seven kittens, she had made her way, with the aid of a cane, across the uneven ground to inspect the hive of bees she kept in Rose's garden.

"They won't mate at all unless they're way up in the sky," said Augusta. "The drones won't take a second look at a queen coming out of a hive. But when she's thirty, a hundred, feet up in the air, then she gets their interest. They'll seek her out, flying this way and that to catch her scent until there's a V of drones -- like the V of geese following a leader in the sky -- chasing along behind her."

"You were going to tell me about Joe," said Rose.

"As soon as the drone mounts and thrusts, he's paralyzed, his genitals snap off, and he falls backward a hundred feet to his death."

"I don't want to hear about it."

In late summer, hives full of ripening honey emitted a particular scent, like the whiff of sweetness Augusta used to catch passing by the candy-apple kiosk at the fall fair, but without the tang of apples to it. She should have been smelling this now, but instead the hive gave off the vinegar-and-almond scent of angry bees. They buzzed loudly, boiling in the air in front of the hive like a pot of simmering toffee. There were far more guard bees than usual, standing at attention at the mouth of the hive.

"Something's been after the bees," said Augusta. She took a step forward to examine them, but several bees flew straight at her, warning her off. "I'll have to look at them later," she said. "When they've settled down."

She turned to the balcony of her apartment, directly above the garden. "Do you think Karl remembers today is our anniversary?"

"He hasn't said anything to me," said Rose. Later that evening, though, Augusta would learn that Rose had hidden Karl's flowers in her fridge. He had walked up and down the roadsides and into the vacant lots, searching for pearly everlastings, sweet tiny yellow flowers with white bracts that bloomed from midsummer right on into winter, and held their shape and color when dried. They were the flowers Karl had picked for Augusta's wedding bouquet forty-eight years before. He had brought the flowers to Rose's apartment in a vase and asked her to hide them in her fridge until later that day.

"You'd think he'd remember, wouldn't you?" said Augusta. "Especially after everything that's happened these past three weeks."

"You'd think."

"You can hear it, you know."

"What?"

"The snapping. If you're listening for it, you can hear a sharp crack when the drone's penis breaks off."

"Oh, God."

Rose followed Augusta as she headed through the sliding glass doors into Rose's apartment to retrieve her luggage. "Can you carry this one upstairs?" she asked Rose. "And this one? I can only manage the one bag with this cane of mine."

Rose took the bags, one in each hand. "But you were going to tell me the story, about seeing Joe again."

"Not now, Rose. I want to see if Joy's phoned with news about Gabe."

"But you promised."

"We'll have plenty of time later."

"You'd go and tell something like that to some strange woman on the train, but you won't tell your best friend."

"I like Esther. I think we'll be seeing a lot more of her. I promised to show her my hive."

"You'll be seeing a lot more of her. I don't care if I ever see her again."

"Well, since neither Esther nor I can drive, you'll have to drive me, so yes, you will be seeing her again."

"Oh, isn't that just great? Now I'm your personal chauffeur."

Augusta turned around at the doorway. "Rose, what's this all about?"

"Just tell the story. About Joe. I thought you never saw him again."

Augusta shook her head and started up the stairs to her apartment. "I'm sure I told you all that already. I can remember showing you the brooch he gave me. Ages and ages ago."

"Yes, the day we met. But you never told me the story. Are you really going to give that brooch to Joy?"

Augusta had met Rose five years before, on the ferry, just after she and Karl had sold the farm. Augusta and Karl were moving to the warmer climate of Vancouver Island. Rose turned the corner into the ferry bathroom and there was Augusta, sitting at the mirrored makeup counter they have on those boats, rummaging through her big purse. Augusta had looked up at Rose in the mirror, smiled, and said, "Do you have a comb? I can't seem to find mine."

Perhaps it was an inappropriate request to make of a stranger, she thought now, rather like asking to borrow someone's toothbrush. Rose said no. "They have them at the newsstand."

"Thanks. I'll get one from there. That's a lovely brooch you're wearing."

"It was my mother's," Rose replied, and Augusta promptly caught her in a web of conversation about the brooch a man named Joe had given her, a brooch Augusta pulled from her purse and showed Rose: a silver setting hemmed a real bee suspended in amber. When Augusta held it up, it cast a little pool of honey light on the floor. "It was the only lasting thing he ever gave me, in the way of presents," she said. "And that was decades after I'd stopped seeing him. I still dream about him, you know." Rose nodded and smiled and moved slowly backward, away, to a toilet stall. Augusta, seeing her discomfort, left before she came out again.

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Contributor notes

Turtle Valley is the fifth book to come from talented Canadian author Gail Anderson-Dargatz, whose novels have been published in several languages worldwide. Her first novel The Cure For Death By Lightning met with terrific acclaim and garnered her the UK’s Betty Trask Award and a nomination for Canada’s Giller Prize. A Recipe For Bees soon followed with nominations for the Giller and the IMPAC Dublin Award. A Rhinestone Button was a national bestseller in Canada and her first book, The Miss Hereford Stories, was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

Her style has been called “Margaret Laurence meets Gabriel García Márquez” because her writing tends towards magic realism, but Anderson-Dargatz says the ghosts and premonitions in her novels arise from her family’s stories of the Shuswap-Thompson area, which she carefully transcribed. “My father passed on the rich stories and legends about the region I grew up in, which he heard from the interior Salish natives he worked with,” she explains. “And my mother told me tales of her own premonitions, and of ghosts, eccentrics and dark deeds that haunted the area.”

Anderson-Dargatz has recently moved home to British Columbia’s Shuswap-Thompson area, that landscape found in so much of her writing. She is married to photographer Mitch Krupp, who took the beautiful photos that are reproduced throughout Turtle Valley. Now at work on her next novel, she is an adjunct professor in the creative writing optional-residency MFA program at the University of British Columbia.

Of her inspiration for Turtle Valley, Anderson-Dargatz writes, “It all started back in 1998 when I helped evacuate my parents from the Salmon Arm fire. Almost the whole city was evacuated, in what was the largest peacetime evacuation in the history of BC up to that time. It was both terrifying and visually beautiful, as fire quite literally rained down on the Salmon River Valley. Even as we went through it, I knew I would write of it someday, and I did, in Turtle Valley.”

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Editorial Review

"Gail Anderson-Dargatz has something that no amount of craft can give a writer: She is hopelessly in love with and attentive to her subject, the physical world and all its gifts." -- The Globe and Mail

"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

"Succeeds with unexpected elegance and energy... Margaret Laurence meets Gabriel García Márquez." -- Elm Street

"A richly textured, life-affirming novel teeming with the small, hard-won victories that make life not only bearable, but glorious." -- Kitchener-Waterloo Record

"She shares the rich vision of fellow Canadians Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro.... Wonderful, salty descriptions of the prairie and its people. This is a real discovery." -- The Mail on Sunday (UK)

“I ended up reading the book in one sitting, hardly noticing that I was getting burned by the Long Beach sun.” -- Geist Magazine

“(a) heady blend of earthy realism and romantic exoticism...This is a bravura work that in several ways recalls Carol Shields’s The Stone Diaries. What Gail Anderson-Dargatz has achieved is a commemoration of a lifestyle and a collection of characters that live on when the novel is finished.” -- The Times Literary Supplement

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About the Author

Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Gail Anderson-Dargatz is a bestselling author. A Recipe for Bees and The Cure for Death by Lightning were finalists for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She also teaches other authors how to write fiction. Gail divides her time between the Shuswap region of British Columbia and Manitoulin Island in Ontario. For more information, visit gailanderson-dargatz.ca.

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