I was trolling thru my Kindle looking for something different and landed on this short novel. I’m counting it in my Reading the World project as “Tunisia” because the author is Tunisian, it draws on the culture of that country and though set in am unnamed country, the story could be set there. CIA World Fact Book–Tunisia.
(Don’t be put off by the first chapter). Sidi is a beekeeper who keeps to himself, takes good care of his bees and his donkey and minds his own business. He lives outside a small village in an undeveloped (“backward”) part of a poor North African country. The country is ruled by “the Handsome One.” One day everything starts to change in ways Sidi and his rural neighbors could not imagine. Largely illiterate they are faced with a new challenge–electing their own leader. Religious leaders arrive in the village and teach them to vote for their party by it’s symbol. To reinforce their voters’ learning they bring crates of food, clothing, blankets, and other necessities to the very poor villagers. A voting booth is put up. A village with no electricity or running water, no school, now had a voting booth. A voting booth where they could vote for the pigeon symbol instead of learning to read and think for themselves.
Soon after Sidi’s bees are violently attacked by a strange black hornet the likes of which no one has ever seen before. Society changes as rapidly as the life in the beehives. Suddenly women are covered head-to-toe, men dress differently too, and many carry rifles or even semi-automatics. The religious leaders make pronouncements. The professor Sidi goes to see about his bees suffers greatly from this new regime (trying to avoid spoilers). What will become of the bees and the people?
This novel (novella in length), told in the style of a parable shows what can happen when people don’t pay attention to what is going on around them. Sidi, shows the difference one man (my “one” vote that people refuse to cast because it is “useless”) can make.
I found it chilling to read this book at a time when many (I am not divulging my political opinions) feel the USA is now going the way of Sidi’s country–to a theocracy. It also brings to mind the famous quote about the Nazi’s
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
“After the revolution, the time had come for democracy and journalism, but what came was and endless media debate in which politicians blamed one another for all that ailed the country.” (p. 114)
Too often today people want to ignore politics, to live in their own “bubble.” New is skewed totally to the opinion of one party or the other. “Serious” journalists now take only a Liberal point of view. It is too easy to tune it all out and focus on a ridiculous prince and his horrible wife or on real housewives or sports or (fill in the blank). We must be awake in life. As anxiety-producing and anger-invoking as politics can be, we must not turn a blind eye to it. We must not let corrupt politicians drive our nations an internal cataclysm of “us” versus “them.” We must unite to save ourselves from those corrupt politicians of we, too, will have the fate of the professor Sidi consults. Wake up, America. Unite.
The Ardent Swarm The Ardent Swarm: A Novel by Yamen Manai, translated by Lara Vergnaud