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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Hive (Spanish: La Colmena, a.k.a The Beehive) is a 1950 fictional, socio-economical, and experimental novel written by Spanish novelist, poet, story writer, and 1989 Nobel Laureate Camilo José Cela. The novel is set in Madrid during the Second World War and deals with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Cela’s intention when writing this book was to show us a panoramic view of the poverty and the struggles of the lower-middle social class after the civil war, as well as to give us insight into the everyday life of Madrid in the 1940s.

The novel contains seven chapters: six parts and an epilogue. Because the main structure is separated in over 200 short scenes, or episodes (each sequence one or two pages long) which describe the different and colorful lives of almost 300 characters, The Hive is considered to belong in the slice-of-life genre. The plot mainly revolves around one small café and its employees and visitors. This place is basically the “main protagonist” of the story, as we learn of numerous tragedies, successes, love affairs, adventures, mishaps, arguments, passions, and occasionally happiness of the people who live around it, work in it, or choose to visit it.

The Hive received mixed to positive reviews, as it was mainly praised for its highly entertaining and thought-provoking narrative, its socially and politically relevant themes, and its vivid imagery and detailed and accurate portrayal of post-Civil-War Spanish society. However, it is noteworthy to mention that The Hive might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It has a bit of a dark and depressing undertone; however, this is easily justifiable when one remembers that the story is set right after Spanish Civil War, during the first days of Franco's dictatorship. Under Franco, the Spanish society was living in poverty, political oppression, and constant day-to-day struggles. The Catholic Church was in control, and the country was dealing with totalitarianism, provincialism, and primitive ways of functionalism.

As Cela mentions a few highly controversial themes of the time, such as homosexuality in the prisons, The Hive was censored, and Cela couldn’t publish it in his native country. Thus, the novel was first published in Buenos Aires. In 1982, Spanish director Mario Camus made a film based on The Hive, which won the Golden Bear for best film at the 33rd Berlin International Film Festival. In the movie, Cela had a small, supporting role and played the character Matías.

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