Review

Of Bees and Mist

by Erick Setiawan

Growing up, Meridia knows little about love. Her father,
Gabriel, disappears each day in a series of mists; his anger and
sadness are palpable forces in their home, and Meridia hardly knows
him. Gabriel never speaks with his wife, Ravenna, and the two only
spend time together at breakfast. Ravenna herself is kindly enough
--- when the veil of madness and forgetfulness lifts and Meridia
can see her mother clearly. But those moments of clarity and
kindness are all too rare.

What happened between her parents --- who apparently used to
have a loving, passionate marriage --- to destroy all the love in
their household? Meridia’s nurse, the only one who has ever
shown her unconditional love, is banished suddenly when she comes
too close to telling the girl the truth about her family’s
history.

As a young woman, Meridia’s only friendship is with an
elusive (perhaps even imaginary) girl who disappears as suddenly as
she enters Meridia’s life. It’s no wonder, then, that
Meridia falls head over heels in love with Daniel, a young
jeweler’s son, when the two repeatedly encounter each other
in the town’s market. Some troubling omens accompany the
pair’s meeting and courtship: a spurned fortune teller
predicts disaster for their relationship, a disgusting, disturbing
animal corpse appears as the two share a romantic moment on the
beach. But Meridia is determined to win Daniel’s heart and
thereby escape the aching cold, the sadness and the perpetual mists
that have surrounded her since childhood.

Meridia soon discovers, however, that other families have their
share of misery, too. Daniel’s mother, Eva, is all sweetness
when she first meets her prospective daughter-in-law; only later
does Meridia learn that Eva has plotted against her from the start,
speaking ill of her behind her back and stopping at nothing to
meddle in the couple’s affairs. Eva’s vitriol against
Meridia is accompanied by swarms of bees, angry creatures intent on
wounding the young bride both figuratively and literally,
especially when she’s giving birth.

As Meridia and Daniel grow in love toward each other and in
maturity, they must go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their
marriage, to become independent, and to combat meddling, abuse and
accusations on every side. Meridia is committed to avoiding the
mistakes of the past, however, and she must learn to become as
strong and crafty as Eva herself even as she nurses the series of
heartbreaks and tragedies visited on her young family.

It’s hard to believe that a novel as self-confident,
inventive and woman-centered as OF BEES AND MIST is a debut
publication by a very young man. The book offers a magical realist
blend of realism and fantasy and is set in a world that is not
easily defined in terms of time or place. As in many folk and fairy
tales, the market square is at the center of the action, but this
is not like any market in our world: “A woman grew herbs out
of her body --- thyme on her arms and rosemary on her chest ---
which customers plucked fresh with their own hands. A tattooed man
swallowed whole radishes and spat them out chopped, seasoned, and
pickled.”

Despite this fantastical tone, and the overall sense that magic,
curses and supernatural forces propel the lives of all the human
characters, OF BEES AND MIST also manages to be a compelling,
psychologically realistic portrayal of a young woman who wants more
than anything to define her own destiny, one that offers hope of
happiness and unity for herself, her husband and their young son.
In this way, the novel is not really so different from classic
coming-of-age tales --- except in Meridia’s world, the
barriers to happiness and self-fulfillment come in the form of
curses, and joy can manifest itself in physical form. Both
whimsically fantastical and psychologically realistic, OF BEES AND
MIST marks the arrival of a nuanced, creative writer who
understands his craft and can also tell a really good story.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 13, 2011

Of Bees and Mist
by Erick Setiawan

  • Publication Date: July 6, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1416596259
  • ISBN-13: 9781416596257