Gail Anderson-Dargatz's evocative novel of one woman's simple but passionately lived life reminds of us of the pleasure to be found in human contact and simple, natural things.
Raised by her silent but companionable father and a mother who kept bees, headstrong Augusta marries shy, deferential Karl, twelve years her senior, and goes to live with him on his father's remote farm. Terrified that she will literally die from loneliness and isolation, she finds work in town, and for a short time, fulfillment with another man in a romance that will reverberate throughout her life. Not until many years later does she find her salvation in beekeeping, the practice she first learned from her mother. It is beekeeping that reconnects her to the world and at long last brings fire to her steadfast marriage.
Already published in the U.K. and a bestseller in Canada, Anderson-Dargatz's (The Cure for Death by Lightning) latest is a warm and wise love story, an exploration of the extraordinary as revealed in everyday lives. Augusta Olsen inherited from her mother a passion for bee-keeping along with a spirited nature and the often troubling gift of clairvoyance. At 18, she marries 30-year-old Karl Olsen, a shy man who takes her to live with his domineering father, Olaf, on an isolated farm in British Columbia. Augusta quickly grows to resent Karl's taciturnity, his refusal to stand up to his tyrannical father and his lack of sexual finesse. Determined not to give in to despair, Augusta accepts the friendship of the local minister, finds work in town and has a brief affair with Joe, a gracious and sensuous man very unlike her husband. Karl bears "with equilibrium" the cruel small-town gossip about Augusta's infidelity, even after the birth of a daughter he knows isn't his. Augusta impels her young family's move from Olaf's farm, but only years later does she rediscover the "ointment for her soul" in bee-keeping, starting a small business that reconnects her to the community and sparks her first "love affair" with Karl. As she ages, Augusta struggles less with Karl's stoic temperament, coming to appreciate his steadiness and the miracle of the way he expresses his love for her in "a simple gesture he had been planning for a day or two, a message contained in flowers." Augusta is a headstrong heroine with prismatic perspectives; her long, never-dull life as told by the gifted Anderson-Dargatz is both charming and impressive in its quiet, cumulative power. The author's family photos, which introduce some chapters, add resonance to her touching tale.