Sanchez has done notable work (Rabbit Boss and Mile High), but this novel about a world-famous painter and his love blighted by war is not quite thought through. For a start, much of it is told in epistolary form, which is always tricky to manage, since a novelist's gifts of narration, here employed at full stretch, are profoundly different from what anyone would be likely to write in a letter. Then, too, the machinery of having an art history professor unearth the letters and tell the story through them is overly familiar, so that although there are moments of genuine power in Sanchez's tale, it feels for much of its course labored and manufactured. Francisco Zermano, a dynamic Spanish-born painter (rather obviously modeled on Picasso, even down to his colossal American car), has a French lover, Louise. When the Nazis invade France, the pair are separated, Louise burying herself in Vichy France and eventually becoming deeply involved in the Resistance, Zermano in uneasy exile from her in occupied Paris. Most of the story is told in a series of Louise's (unposted) letters to him, describing their early days together, a horrific encounter with a German officer who raped her after shattering Zermano's knees, and then her pregnancy, her wartime sufferings and heroism, the loss of her baby and her eternal, death-transcending love for the painter. Finally, the narrator who found her letters takes them to the great man's solitary exile in Mallorca and has his daughter read them to him. After one more revelation, the story ends on a wistful note. Sanchez evokes the immemorial Proven al landscape exquisitely, and some of the mutual passion of Louise and Zermano comes across powerfully, but the Resistance scenes and the mysterious beekeeper who gives the book part of its title are melodramatic in concept and execution. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000 Release date: 05/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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