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Book review: “Go tell the bees I’m gone” | Community

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“Go tell the bees I’m gone” by Diana Gabaldon. Delacorte. 928 pages. $ 36. Review provided by the Washington Post.

There is no doubt that legions of readers will be celebrating the release of “Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone”, the latest installment in Diana Gabaldon’s vast Outlander saga. The series began with the eponymous novel in 1991, followed by eight sequels (including this one), four linked novels, and several short stories and short stories, totaling over 12,000 pages. There is also a graphic novel and a musical.

Newcomers to the ongoing story, as well as those who are only familiar with the hit TV series – season 6 will air next year – could be forgiven for slipping in some more single malt to fortify them for the new book, which has 928 pages. . The title refers to an old Celtic custom of telling bees important family news – a death, birth, or marriage – so that they can transport it to the next hive or swarm. In this case, bees can also speak of murders, kidnappings, unexpected births, betrayals, or a lot of deception, as well as occasional ordination and a few blackmail, just to liven things up.

The novel opens in the summer of 1779, on Fraser’s Ridge in the American colony of North Carolina. Jamie Fraser, a Scottish Highlander and paterfamilias of a large and complex clan, settled there with his time-traveling wife, Claire. Claire is a mid-20th century foreigner who, after many years living in the 17th century, has mostly adapted to the lives of people unfamiliar with penicillin, automobiles, or Dr Seuss. A nurse in the British Army during WWII, Claire now uses her skills as a healer to care for the many inhabitants of Fraser’s Ridge. These include Brianna, his daughter fathered by Jamie but raised in the 20th century by Claire and her former husband, as well as Brianna’s husband Roger and their children, additional outliers from the future. The extended Fraser clan also includes children born out of wedlock, stepchildren, adopted children (and adults), as well as lovers and spouses acquired in the decades since Jamie and Claire first met. The book contains three Outlander family trees, which are somewhat useful.

Still, it’s been seven years since Gabaldon’s previous novel: Even die-hard fans can feel like they’ve been thrown in the middle of a big family reunion, only half remembering who is who and why. they should remember them. The first hundreds of pages of “Go Tell the Bees”, although well told, progress slowly, as Gabaldon makes us rediscover not only Claire and Jamie, but also their vast network of family, friends and enemies, some of them now opposing sides of the US War of Independence. A new name or character is introduced on almost every page, and few escape without a story.

A Jacobite rebel before emigrating to America, Jamie sides with the Patriots but is tolerant of his loyal tenants on the Ridge. Yet things are heating up as the conflict grows more serious and closer to home. There are moving accounts of the sieges of Charles Town (now Charleston, SC) and Savannah; excursions to Philadelphia and upstate New York, with a memorable stay among the Mohawks; and appearances by historical figures such as Francis Marion, the swamp fox, whom Roger (raised in the 20th century) finds “not quite what the romantic nickname ‘Swamp Fox’ conjured up.” Coats are returned, friends are betrayed, lives are lost. One of the many things Gabaldon does superbly is to show how great events are not history for those who experience them but just everyday life, with children to feed, clothes to mend, dead people. to bury. And yes, whiskey to drink, in celebration or in mourning.

At first, time travel does not play a big role in the novel. When it does, it is mainly represented by books – “Green Eggs and Ham,” cherished by the grandchildren of Claire and Jamie; a valuable copy of the Merck manual that Claire refers to during bone placement and surgeries. But literature takes on a more ominous role when Jamie discovers a story of the American Revolution written by Claire’s ex-husband in the 20th century. In it, Jamie finds his own name among the list of those killed at the Battle of Kings Mountain, North Carolina, in October 1780. Is it possible to outrun your own death? Could you agree to do so, at the cost of honor and knowing your small role in a crucial battle for American independence? Yet what if one learns, as another character does, that a small act could change the course of world history, almost certainly for the better?

Gabaldon’s vast and expansive account of the War of Independence is so intricately plotted and populated that one is astonished that she could have conceived and written it in just seven years. Despite its scale, many of the best moments are small, especially those that describe the enduring love and passion of Claire and Jamie as they enter their sixties. Readers may find themselves suffocating as the book nears its cliffhanger end. It might be another seven years before Outlander’s next and final volume, but I bet it’ll be worth the wait.

– Review of Elizabeth Hand, whose novel “Hokuloa Road” will be published next year.