Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews: Of Bees and Mist

September 23, 2010



With Erick Setiawan’s masterful storytelling in his novel Of Bees and Mist (Simon & Schuster), you are submerged into the magical world of Meridia and her families, one in which mists and bees are both the cause and effect of families being torn apart and being misunderstood. Setiawan sets a melancholic stage, with a family being torn apart by misunderstanding, years full of miscommunication, and a lack of empathy for their partners. Meridia is caught between her parents’ silence, both confused at their anger and constantly cold to the bone due to the two magical mists that continually fight for dominance in their home. As she grows older, and closer to the truth of her partners falling out, she meets her own husband, Daniel. Through meeting him, and their eventual marriage, Meridia eagerly leaves her silent and cold home and happily enters the world of her husband and his family.

From the outset, Daniel’s family seems considerably warmer and friendlier than her own imbalanced relatives. Meridia and Daniel live with his family, which is at first not a problem. But, as most stories go, conflict soon arises in the supposedly happy family. Meridia quickly realizes that her mother-in-law is not as welcoming as she first appeared, and through the powers of manipulation and subtly battery this causes tension within Meridia and Daniel’s new marriage. Meridia is soon forced to choose between moving back in with her own frigid and forgetful parents or remaining with her domineering and possessive mother-in-law. In this instance, she makes decisions that ultimately drive wedges into a number of different relationships, an action that has repercussions for the rest of the story.

Throughout the entirety of the novel, Setiawan magnificently weaves together what could be a rather humdrum retelling of the classic girl-loves-boy story and does an incredible job of allowing the magical elements to enhance the story, rather than be the entire basis of his domestic tale. Meridia is an exceptionally strong character that you’ll quickly find yourself rooting for, and all of the other characters are extremely well drawn and fascinating. Both sides of the family, as well as the additional characters, only add to the richness of the plot and depth of the story. 
Meridia and Daniel’s meeting and falling in love is perhaps one of my favorites in literature. It makes for an intoxicating few chapters, which was both wonderful to read and yet tinged with foreshadowing concerning the sadness and mistrust that is to follow. The entire story is wonderful in its messy and honest construction of relationships. While there are characters that it is clear you should be rooting for as a reader, or not, the families’ interactions are wonderfully genuine and authentic.

Meridia is a strong protagonist, in the vein of Celie from The Color Purple or Sula from Toni Morrison’s novel of the same name. As a reader, you may not always agree with her decisions, but you are always shown the rock and hard place between which she was forced (specifically as a woman), and you will love the creative solutions she dreams up to help her and her family out of sticky situations. It is wonderful to see a woman with a solid head on her shoulders, capable of assessing and dealing with the problems that both her families present.

Ultimately, this novel is definitely worth a read. As with any book, I have a couple of things I would tweak, but in the end, I was completely enthralled with the story and kept heading back to it as often as I could. 


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