To avoid focusing on the negative, this book is also hopeful and has so many moments of beauty too. I loved this story and its meaning and think it’s an important look at the world outside of Western culture and ways of thinking. Humans fight every day for their materials causes and what this book does best is show how the victims are often innocent – the bees didn’t deserve the suffering they received and in a story of right and wrong, good and evil, human wars, and human strife, I’m rooting for the bees the whole way.
Title: The Ardent Swarm
Author: Yamen Manai
Type: Fiction
Published: 2017/2021
Pages: 197
TW: Terrorism, Violence, Xenophobia, Radicalisation

9.5Beautiful, Poetic, Poignant
Firstly, this book is about SO MUCH more than bees. But the bees are such a beautiful and compelling analogy for the wider story of this novel. The invasion of the hornets parallel the radicalisation that Sidi witnesses both in Nawa and outside of it. Perceptions of terrorism throughout the world are always harshly stereotyped but this book is a look from the inside of how people can become radicalised and shows it’s about so much more than being hellbent on violence. The people of Nawa have their way of life but they are mostly ignored by the rest of the world, so when someone starts to pay them attention, it’s easy to see why they would start believing in their cause.
The Ardent Swarm is heartbreaking for both the savage murder of the bees and also the radicalisation of Nawa’s people to a cause Sidi knows is wrong. Nawa doesn’t have electricity or running water and yet even this remote village isn’t untouched by the greed and bitterness of the modern world.“What was easier to hijack than democracy? Like most things in the world of men, democracy was principally a question of money, and the prince had plenty.” Throughout Manai shows how institutions that should be fair and righteous, like a democratic election, ultimately come down to who is the richest, and in a world that unfortunately revolves around money, this was heartbreaking to see.
“They fluttered, grazed, and quivered in a delicate choreography. The dance of life, Sidi had named it, because life advanced thanks to these workers, providing man and animal fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and all the while, offering Sidi divine honey.”

Sidi’s devotion to his bees is evident from the first page to the last and while this book contains both beauty and horror, for me, its the warmth which comes from that relationship that triumphs. Manai uses eloquent writing to personify the bees and by the end, I had grown attached and invested in their protection too. Sidi’s determination to not let them be harmed again is also a metaphor for the love of his village and the horror he feels when he sees outsiders try and infiltrate both Nawa and its people.

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Review overview



The Ardent Swarm follows Sidi, a beekeeper who lives in a remote village in Egypt called Nawa. One morning he goes to his hives to find that they’ve been attacked, killing swathes of bees. Heartbroken and determined to find the cause, Sidi goes on a journey to ensure that his bees never face this devastation again. Having investigated, he discovers the cause was a swarm of hornets, hornets that shouldn’t even be in Africa, so where did they come from? And how can he stop them returning? Venturing out of Nawa to investigate and solve this problem, what Sidi witnesses is a country on the cusp of its first democratic election and Islamic fundamentalists who are seeking to win over votes through bribery and loaded promises. From Egypt to Japan, this novel spans many microcosms of life and tells a story of love, devotion, and how one forgotten village and it’s lonesome beekeeper are the pinnacle of hope in a world of change.

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