Jose Luis de Juan’s novella Napoleon’s Beekeeper instantly deports its reader beyond reach of the Tuscan coast, as our author re-imagines the whimsical last sundown of the Napoleonic epoch. The year is 1814 and Bonaparte finds himself with little more dirt to govern than that of the isolated, bee-infested island of Elba. However, rather than finding his newly subjected vassals to be unreachable, Elba’s occupants (and furthermore, their carefully tended Apidae) seem to resonate a synchronistic awareness to the moonlit reveries of the exiled conqueror. Meanwhile, on a distant farm, beekeeper and tactician Andrea Pasolini scribbles furiously in his dimly lit cellar. Imitating La Rochefoucauld, he studies and carefully translates the symposium that is the incessant droning hive. For surely it seems; Pasolini’s swarm has a message for Napoleon?
Translated by Australian writer Elizabeth Bryer, this text dismantles the stagnate confines of historical fiction, and de Juan succeeds in carefully weaving a tapestry that is part fact and part fable, as he contests the individuality of one’s own fate, the perception of an exterior life and the frequencies between which compound in the formation of every decisive Epic.