The Beekeeper's Promise
The past few weeks I’ve been attempting to whittle away at my TBR pile. I picked up The Beekeeper’s Promise a year or so ago because I liked the cover and I have a thing for bees. I’m so glad I did. The Beekeeper’s Promise is a moving tale of life in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Written from two points of view and two timeframes, the main story chronicles the life of Eliane Martin, her family, her friends, and her love from 1938 (pre-occupation) to 1944, with a secondary storyline revolving around Abi Howes in 2017 as she comes to work at the same Chateau Eliane worked at as a young woman.
Eliane and her family run a mill in south central France but she is also the beekeeper and garden assistant at Château Bellevue, home of le Comte de Bellevue. Their lives are happy except for the shadow of the German aggressions happening all over Europe. Eliane’s mother works as the local midwife, her sister as a seamstress in Paris, her brother at the mill with her father. The summer before the German invasion of France, Eliane falls in love with Mathieu Dubosq, an apprentice at a nearby winery. But when war is declared and France is quickly taken over by the Nazis, Eliane and Mathieu are separated with any communication between them impossible.
How could this have happened? How could someone, somewhere, decide one day to draw a line on a map that would keep them apart like this? That same line had cut like a scalpel blade through communities and families, severing France in two.
Eliane’s town is now occupied by German forces and she must spend her days gardening and cooking for the Nazis. But Eliane and her family are not willing to be bystanders in this war for France. Under the guidance of the elderly le Comte de Bellevue, Eliane joins the Resistance helping to send secret messages to the French forces hidden in the hills around her town. She and her family members work hard to help their friends and neighbors survive the occupation, all the while not knowing what has happened to Mathieu and other loved ones.
Abi’s story takes place at the modern-day Chateau de Bellevue, now a wedding venue. Abi came to France for a yoga retreat but finds herself working at the Chateau instead. She is on a healing journey after a disastrous marriage and horrible accident have left her mind and body injured. The owners of the Chateau share the story of Eliane with Abi and Eliane’s courage inspires Abi to move past her old wounds.
I really enjoyed Eliane and her family’s story. The courage and creativity shown by all of the Martins and their neighbors is inspirational, and even though the days of occupation dragged by, the story moves quickly. The writing made me feel the tenseness of the times, the fear experienced by the French, the hunger that worsened throughout the occupation, and the ever-present feeling of impending doom. But it also made me feel the pride, determination, and hope of the French people.
I was less moved by Abi’s story. I would have liked to have seen more about her blossoming into a new person and less about her reflections on Eliane’s life. The writing was so good that I already knew how Eliane was feeling – it seemed redundant to have Abi reflect it back to me.
The Beekeeper’s Promise is but a small glimpse of life in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. But in telling the story of just one family, it illustrates what life must have been like for a great deal of French patriots in the countryside. Some parts were hard to read but overall it’s an uplifting book highlighting the courage of the human spirit. Definitely recommended.
Note: This book contains scenes of domestic abuse.