Monday, June 01, 2009
OF BEES AND MIST by Eric Setiawan
I was given the opportunity to read this forthcoming title through Barnes and Noble's First Look program.
I minored in Spanish in college and have always been a fan of Latin American magical realist fiction. When I found out that Setiawan's book would be following in this literary tradition, I was really excited to read it.
OF BEES AND MIST is a family saga with a twist. Meridia grows up in a loveless house surrounded by cold and mysterious mists. In an attempt to escape a world where she feels invisible, Meridia marries her first love at the age of sixteen only to trade one difficult life for another. For the next several years, Meridia battles with her mother-in-law Eva in an epic struggle that affects all of the family members. As the battle wages on, family secrets are drawn out into the open and mysterious occurrences plague the two families.
Setiawan was born in Indonesia to Chinese parents and didn't move to the United States until 1991 but I felt as if I was reading a work by Garcia-Marquez. Setiawan skillfully creates a world that exists outside of time and place. It could easily happen anywhere at anytime. While I visualized it occurring in a Latin American country, my friend saw it taking place in colonial Indochina. This imaginary world is filled with the impossible that simply becomes a part of the characters' everyday lives. Swarms of bees harrass characters into acting against their natures. Individuals fade into ghosts rather than dying traditional deaths. Marigolds take on supernatural properties as they choke the life out of a rose garden. This is no ordinary world that the characters inhabit. Even houses themselves become living, breathing characters in the book.
This book will be released in August 2009.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Setiawan skillfully evokes the Latin American magical realist masters while making the genre his own. The reader is swept into the family drama and held there until all the secrets are revealed. I found the book difficult to put down and the ending was very satisfying.