Hive and Seek

Hive and Seek

Graver drew inspiration and themes for her new novel from beekeeping

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth Graver (English), whose first novel two years ago, Unravelling , took readers to the textile mills of 19th-century Lowell, says she finds fiction-writing a way of immersing herself in new worlds.

Her latest, The Honey Thief , finds her in the realm of beekeeping, where she says she found many of the themes she brought to her tale of a mother and daughter carving new lives for themselves out of an unsettled past.

"I'm very interested in the way memory works," Graver said. "Bees have an amazing memory. If you're going to move a hive, you have to move it far away. Otherwise, they'll come back to the same place looking for the same hive. They have a very strongly encoded sense of place."

Themes of home and remembrance are central to The Honey Thief , in which a woman finds she cannot move ahead with her future - or her daughter's - until she faces up to a past she's been trying to ignore.

After 11-year-old Eva Baruch is repeatedly caught shoplifting, her desperate widowed mother, Miriam, decides they must move from Manhattan to rural upstate New York, where they might start new lives. Eva forms a friendship with Burl, a reclusive middle-aged beekeeper who allows the girl to work with him as an apprentice. As tensions mount between mother and daughter, it is Burl who unexpectedly helps Eva and Miriam find their way back to one another by at last confronting the past.

A moving novel about the healing powers of love, forgiveness and unexpected friendship, The Honey Thief has been praised by Ploughshares for its "lyrical language and specific detailing," and by The Boston Book Review for "insight into both the sharpness and fragility of the human heart."

Elizabeth Graver.

Graver, who notes she draws bursts of inspiration for her writing from everyday things, said the bee theme presented itselfin a National Public Radio report on the decimation of the honeybee population by mites. She decided to write a story about it, and even went so far as to learn beekeeping.

While strolling in Somerville, she happened upon a working beehive on a front porch in a densely-populated neighborhood. The unlikely beekeeper - a gruff, retired sheetmetal worker - took Graver under his wing and taught her the craft.

She and her husband now maintain a beehive at their home in Lincoln. "You can get between 30 and 60 pounds of honey a year from the hive," said Graver, who said she has only been stung "a couple of times."

"You have this little smoker, and you puff smoke over them," she explained. "They think their house is on fire, and so they gorge themselves with honey, thinking they have to run away for a while and won't be able to eat. It makes them docile.

"It echoes for me. Many of the themes of my novels I find , in odd or oblique ways , in the beehive."

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