I've just finished an advance reading copy of Erick Setiawan's debut novel "Of Bees and Mist," an allegorical fantasy spanning three generations of women in two families. The last time I was this enchanted by a novel was when I read "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel. Both books tell stories that weave the ordinary with the extraordinary.
Meridia has a lonely childhood. Her mother, Ravenna, is a woman who dresses in black, mutters to herself and on most days forgets she has a daughter. Her father, Gabriel, is cold and cruel. A mysterious mist carries him away each night and delivers him in the morning. It soon becomes apparent that her father is spending his nights with another woman. Meridia has dreams of something that happened when she was a baby, something that drove her parents apart and fractured their family.
When Meridia reaches the age of sixteen she falls in love with Daniel and wants to marry him. Gabriel disapproves but Ravenna surprises everyone by arguing for the marriage and the young couple moves in with the groom's family. At first Daniel's mother, Eva, is warm and jovial, everything that Ravenna is not. But her true nature is soon revealed. The sound of buzzing bees signals her mother-in-law's nagging and sly cunning. She tries to manipulate and control Meridia as she does her family. And Meridia must find a way to become independent or risk losing Daniel.
I've heard magical realism defined as "what happens when a realistic setting is invaded by something 'too strange to believe'." I think that applies here. Setiawan uses visible symbols and metaphors to represent emotions and abstract ideas. Each reader will come away with a different interpretation and understanding of the setting and characters. Those who like everything wrapped up in a tidy package will be disappointed; most of the book is open to interpretation. Even the cover was a tantalizing puzzle with hidden pictures to be ferreted out by eagle eyed readers.
I was thoroughly intrigued. It's always a joy to discover a story that's unique, thought provoking and entertaining at the same time. I highly recommend it.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 4, 2009)
Hardcover: Pages 416
Gail Pruszkowski reviews for "Romantic Times BOOKreviews" magazine and her work has been published in the "Cup of Comfort" Anthologies.