The Ardent Swarm

Amazon Crossing. Feb. 2021. 204p. ISBN 9781542020473. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781542020459. $14.95. F
In this masterly novel, a small fundamentalist group arising after the Arab Spring commits atrocities in the name of God just as giant “murder” hornets kill the bees that are so necessary for crop fertilization and the production of honey. Beekeeper Sidi lives in the small, underdeveloped village of Nawa in Tunisia and is alarmed at the killing power of these giant hornets, new to his area. (The title comes from the way Japanese bees defend against these hornets by encircling a “scout” hornet, vibrating their wings to create an intense heat the hornet cannot endure.) As Sidi seeks protection from the hornets, Manai illustrates how the lives of the villagers are “managed” in a similar way by the extremist religious forces they endure. It’s an excellent comparison.
VERDICT Winner of the prestigious Prix de la Francophonie, Tunisian-born, Paris-based Manai’s first book to be translated into English is a fascinating account of parallel conflicts between bees and hornets and between villagers and fanatics. The enormous talent on display here recommends a second reading to relish the author’s storytelling ability.
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