Erick Setiawan's richly atmospheric debut is a beautiful, engrossing fable of three generations of women in two families; their destructive jealousies, their loves and losses, their sacrifices and deeply rooted deceptions, and their triumphs.
Of Bees and Mist is a fable of one woman's determination to overcome the haunting magic that is created by the people she loves and the oppressive secrets behind their broken lives. Raised in a sepulchral house where ghosts dwell in mirrors, Meridia spends her childhood feeling neglected and invisible. Every evening her father vanishes inside a blue mist without so much as an explanation, and her mother spends her days beheading cauliflowers in the kitchen. At sixteen, desperate to escape, Meridia marries a tenderhearted young man. Little does she suspect that his family is harboring secrets of their own. There is a grave hidden in the garden. There are two sisters groomed from birth to despise each other. And there is Eva, the formidable matriarch whose grievances swarm the air like an army of bees—the wickedest mother-in-law imaginable.
Erick Setiawan takes Meridia on a tumultuous ride of hope and heartbreak as she struggles to keep her young family together and discovers long-kept secrets about her own past as well as the shocking truths about her husband's family.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||8.46(w) x 5.66(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Erick Setiawan was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents and moved to the United States in 1991. He is a graduate of Stanford University and currently lives in San Francisco.
Hometown:San Francisco, CA
Date of Birth:February 15, 1975
Place of Birth:Jakarta, Indonesia
Education:B.A. in Psychology & B.S. in Computer Science, Stanford U., 1998; M.S. in Computer Science, Stanford U., 2000
Read an Excerpt
Few in town agreed on when the battle began. The matchmaker believed it started the morning after the wedding, when Eva took all of Meridia's gold and left her with thirteen meters of silk. The fortune-teller, backed by his crystal globe, swore that Eva's eyes did not turn pitiless until Meridia drenched them in goose blood three months later. The midwife championed another theory: The feud started the day Meridia held her newborn son with such pride that Eva felt the need to humble her. But no matter how loudly the townspeople debated, the answer remained a mystery and the two women themselves were to blame. Meridia said little, and Eva offered conflicting explanations, which confirmed the town's suspicion that neither one of them could actually remember.
The town first took notice of Meridia at the hour of her birth. That evening, following what would be remembered as twenty-seven hours of labor, she was extracted blue and wrinkled from Ravenna's womb. Her lungs, despite the ten slaps administered to her rump, refused to take even one breath. The midwife was about to bundle her away when Ravenna scolded: "What are you doing, woman? Give her to me!"
In her calm, ordinary voice, Ravenna told the baby that after putting her through eight months of discomfort and twenty-seven hours of unadulterated pain, after ruining her figure and swelling her breasts and wreaking havoc on her appetite, the least she could do was give her mother a farewell cry. "The tiniest squeak would do," said Ravenna. "A yowl would be even better." Ravenna went on for some minutes, rocking her daughter gently, and by the time she recited the intimate details surrounding the baby's conception "if you could only see the ungodly contortions your father had me do" Meridia spluttered a cough and inhaled her first breath.
"Stubborn little creature," chuckled Ravenna. "Do you think you're too good for this world?"
The midwife waited in vain for the baby to cry. Meridia gasped and grimaced, but one thing she did not do was cry. An hour later, shaking and scratching her head, the midwife departed. To every person she saw she confided, "One hundred babies delivered, and I've never seen one like her. Whether she is an angel or a demon only time will tell."
A few months shy of Meridia's first birthday, a blinding flash of light traveled at great speed in the dark of night and awakened her. There was a crash and a tumble, followed by a terrible scream, and suddenly she was snatched up from her bassinet and crushed against Ravenna's bosom. At the age of three, after Meridia learned enough words to speak, she tried to articulate to Ravenna what she had witnessed. All her mother did was sigh and mutter, "Some things are better left as dreams, child." Was it a dream then? Meridia wanted to ask, but Ravenna had turned to her vegetables and forgotten her. Her mother's back was straight and sturdy capable, Meridia suspected, of holding unknowable secrets.
The house at 24 Monarch Street was made of glass and steel. Perched on a high hill, it boasted a mansard roof, large latticed windows, and a veranda banked by daffodils. Stone steps climbed the sloping garden to the front door, over which an ivory mist hovered regardless of weather. The mist was a bane to peddlers and visitors alike, for it often held them suspended in midair, stole their hats, or chased them away with terrifying noises. Inside, the house obeyed a law of its own. The wood floors echoed no sound of footsteps, and people simply appeared in doorways without warning. The spiral staircase shortened and lengthened at random, and it could take toddling Meridia two seconds to two hours to go from one floor to the other. Mirrors were especially treacherous: In them Meridia could glimpse unfamiliar landscapes and all shapes of apparitions. Despite the large open windows, dusk never quite left the rooms; the sun could be blazing yet inside, the brightest objects looked dim and unappealing.
It was always cold in the house. Even at the height of summer with the fire going, Meridia was unable to keep warm. In the mornings, the nurse dressed her in heavy winter clothes as though a storm was brewing. At bedtime, the good woman wrapped her in two or three blankets and still her bones chattered. The cold emanated from one room, where at all hours a frosty wind fluttered curtains and rattled lamps. Meridia did not know how Ravenna could sleep in that room; her father, Gabriel, certainly never did. Meridia was four when she noticed that no words had ever passed between her parents. Five when she realized that the three of them were never in the same room at the same time. Gabriel spent his days in the study at the front of the house. Exactly what it was he studied, no one could say. In hushed tones, the nurse and the maids referred to him as a man of science, a celebrated scholar, an astute investor who had doubled his inheritance and was now living for the sake of knowledge. They were all terrified of him. No sooner did they sight his shadow than they trembled like leaves. Gabriel seldom spoke to them. A gesture or a look was all he needed to convey his command, which everyone but Ravenna followed like a mandate from heaven.
Meridia regarded her father with both fear and respect. A tall and elegant man, Gabriel was direct in manner, limited in patience, scrupulous in appearance. He had a firm chin and a grim mouth, and his dark eyes were severe and without warmth. He walked with a slight stoop, which gave him the appearance of a swooping raptor. Not once had Meridia heard him laugh. That he resented her for reasons that would not become clear until years later was the first thing she noticed about him. If he were to ever take her in his arms or speak a kind word to her, she would not have the slightest idea of what to do.
One day, despite the nurse's warnings, Meridia stole into the study when no one was looking. She had simply meant to peek around the door, but when she saw that Gabriel was out, she braved herself to enter. Though she had no previous recollection of being there, the room looked welcoming and familiar. She grinned at the towers of books that made up the walls, at the hanging maps and graphs full of numbers. Cabinet after cabinet was jammed with flasks, beakers, burners. Meridia skipped toward the massive desk by the window. Jars of growing seeds populated the surface, and they were all winking at her. She was reaching to touch them when a shadow fell across the desk.
"Who gave you permission to enter?"
Meridia turned and shrank. Her grin instantly melted from her face.
"Speak up! Don't just stand there drooling like an ape."
"I I "
Gabriel had not raised his voice, yet Meridia felt the whole world was screaming at her. Confronted with his immaculate suit and shiny oxford shoes, she felt dirty, small, purposeless. As she beseeched the maps and books for a way out, every object in the room darkened like an artifact of hate. Meridia dropped her eyes and did not dare lift them.
"You are five years old and quite capable of forming a sentence. Do you mean to stand there and insult me with your silence?"
"Papa I "
She was saved from further agony by her nurse, who ran into the study trembling with fright.
"It's my fault, Master. I didn't think "
Gabriel did not deign to look at her. "It is immaterial what you think or don't think. If I ever find her in here again..."
Quick for her considerable bulk, the nurse yanked Meridia out of the study. Once upstairs, she berated her charge soundly, but soon took pity and enfolded the child in her arms.
"You darling girl," she said with infinite tenderness. "Don't you mind your father too much. Some men can't help themselves when they're battered."
Her eyes pale and small, Meridia stood without moving. What had she done wrong? Why did Gabriel despise her like an enemy? Failing to stop the chill where his shadow had touched her, she wondered if all fathers were cruel and all mothers forgetful.
If the study was Gabriel's shrine, then the kitchen was Ravenna's sanctuary. In this large, bright room where the ceiling soared two stories high and the tiles were scrubbed four times a day, the lady of the house poured her venom into the endless meals she cooked. As she chopped, grilled, and boiled, Ravenna addressed the vegetables in a dark and private language, telling them of sorrow and despair. The fury of her pots and pans kept visitors away, while her air of absentmindedness spun a web of solitude about her. These endless meals, much more than her family could eat, were invariably donated to the poor. Apart from the kitchen, Ravenna entrusted the house to the care of the nurse and the two maids. This included the rearing of Meridia, whose existence she seemed able to recollect only with difficulty.
Ravenna's attire was limited to a plain black dress, which she kept protected with a white apron while she cooked. Long-sleeved and high-necked, the dress hid her pale arms and pointed shoulder blades, but did little to soften her appearance. Her face was so sharply angular it was saved from gauntness simply by her generous nose. Perfumed with verbena, her black hair was swept up into an implacable knot, so tight and bonelike it seemed a natural projection of her skull. Ravenna moved in a stiff and sudden manner, as though the aim of her action was decided at the tail end of a moment.
Due to her mother's forgetfulness, Meridia did not correctly estimate her date of birth until she was six. For years, using her own approximation, the nurse had always given her a present her one and only on July 2. However, on the morning of July 19 in her sixth year, Ravenna made a great clatter in the kitchen and summoned her. "Child!" she said breathlessly. "Why do you wear such a long face on your birthday? Look, I've made you a caramel cake. Go up to your room and put on a nice dress. I hope you don't mind that our party will be smaller this year." Meridia did not care for caramel and Ravenna never once held a party for her, but she did not trouble to correct her mother.
On the few occasions when they sat together in the living room, Ravenna would often drop her knitting and regard Meridia as if she had no idea who she was. Recognition, if it did occur, was swiftly followed by a tremor of shame. "Are you unhappy, child?" she would ask anxiously, sinking her chin to her bosom. Before Meridia could reply, Ravenna would snatch back her knitting and let fall a torrent of words: "Keep your spine stiff at all times. Never show anyone your tears. Never be at anybody's mercy. Nod if you're listening, child!"
Owing to her fear of infectious diseases, the nurse seldom allowed Meridia out of the house. Twice a month at most, when the sky was clear and the sun gentle, the good woman would take her to Cinema Garden for a brisk stroll. These outings were far from pleasurable for Meridia. Boiling inside a contraption of scarves and underclothes, knee socks and unyielding rubber boots, Meridia attracted as much jeering as pity as she staggered from one street to the next. The nurse, oblivious to her condition, would embarrass her further by remarking loudly, "Mind that dirty boy from the looks of him he hasn't seen soap in weeks...See that wart-ridden woman over there? You'll end up like her if you don't do as I say...You're sweating an awful lot, dear. Tell me if you feel an attack is coming on..." Ten minutes after they arrived at Cinema Garden, before Meridia had time to inspect the blossoms or feed the golden swans in the fountain, the nurse would insist that they return home immediately before a contamination could occur. All of Meridia's objections would be met as follows: "You're irritable. Are you sure you haven't touched anything? Let's leave before it gets worse."
One afternoon in Meridia's ninth year, after she had been housebound for three weeks, Ravenna suddenly switched off the stove, untied her apron, and declared that she would take her to the market. Curious to know what a market was, Meridia hurried to put on her shoes. The nurse attempted to fortify her with the usual garments, but Ravenna stopped her with a bellow. "Have you lost your mind, woman? It's hot enough outside to brand a cow!" Amid the nurse's scandalized look, they set off, Ravenna severe in her black dress, Meridia torn between a smile and a sense of disloyalty to the nurse. She soon forgot the latter, however, when Ravenna took her hand and led her across the street. To her amazement, no one laughed at her. Several onlookers even complimented Ravenna on her pretty daughter.
"I can't and won't argue with you," Ravenna answered solemnly. "Any woman would be lucky to have a darling like her."
Meridia blushed all the way down to her shoulders. It was the first time her mother had ever praised her.
That day, Ravenna took her to a hot and crowded square. Meridia's eyes flew wide at the sight of people jostling and arguing, stalls crammed with fruit and vegetables, sacks of rice and flour, spices sold in egg-shaped jars. There were fowls dead and alive, fish heaped on beds of ice, crabs in bamboo crates, meat suspended from iron hooks. 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. The air was thick with aromas both pleasant and odious and the ground was wet and dirty. Had it not been for Ravenna's hand, which she clutched tighter as they made their round, Meridia would have felt overwhelmed. The nurse would never have taken her to this place.
Somewhere along the butchers' aisle, Meridia lost her mother. A current of people swept her back; she was pushed and prodded, stepped on, then driven against her will up and down the square. Ravenna was nowhere in sight. Without her, Meridia went unnoticed, glared at by shoppers only when they found her in the way. The butchers' cleavers frightened her beyond measure, the ruthless thwack of blade against bone and meat chucked hastily onto grainy papers. Along the ground, blood formed a fly-spotted river. The louder Meridia shouted, the more the crowd roared to drown her.
Perhaps she cried for hours. Her throat was certainly hoarse when a hand brushed against her cheek.
"Why are you crying, little girl?"
Meridia looked up to find a well-dressed woman in a sea green hat. Choking back tears, she labored to explain, but the woman interrupted her.
"Don't worry. Your mother is only playing hide-and-seek. Come, we'll find her soon enough."
The nurse's warning about the ghastly things that happened to children who followed strangers went off in Meridia's brain. However, not knowing what else to do, she took the woman's hand and followed.
They searched the square twice without finding Ravenna. On their third try, just as the last ray of hope was fading in Meridia's breast, the scent of verbena came strongly to her nose. She froze in her tracks, then quick as lightning dropped the woman's hand and charged against the crowd. She had spotted Ravenna's implacable knot. So great, so complete was her relief that her heart felt like bursting.
Standing before a flower stall, Ravenna was carrying packages in her hand. She turned abruptly when she felt the urgent tug on her dress.
"What is it, child?"
Ravenna's face was calm and untroubled. Meridia could not speak, for tears had once again sprung to her throat.
"What is it? Why are you crying?"
"What do you mean?" rebuffed the woman in the sea green hat. "She's been looking everywhere for you!"
Ravenna shot her a puzzled look. "What on earth for? I've been right here all along."
Unable to contain herself, Meridia broke out sobbing. Ravenna bent down and wiped her tears with her sleeve.
"Tilt your chin up, child. Keep your back straight. Why are you letting the whole world see you cry?"
Meridia sobbed all the more. Tossing her head, the woman in the sea green hat snorted, then gave Ravenna a sharp look before leaving. This look, unnoticed by the mother, sliced deep into the daughter's heart.
Though Ravenna held her hand all the way home, Meridia took no pleasure in it. The stranger's look burned in her vision, and along with shame and sadness, it stirred a reckless dark feeling inside her. More than once she wished she had a cleaver to hurl, not at the woman in the sea green hat, but at the forgetfulness that imprisoned Ravenna in a different world. She wanted to strike until her arm was tired, scream until her voice was gone, and hound down whatever demon had erected this wall between them. Copyright © 2009 by Erick Setiawan
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Of Bees and Mist includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Erick Setiawan. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Of Bees and Mist takes place in an unnamed town in a timeless era, a place where superstitions and spells abound, spirits roam free, and even the mist harbors secrets. Here Meridia grows up in a household fractured by misunderstanding and haunted by grief. After a desolate childhood spent trying to understand her mysterious parents, she leaves at age sixteen to marry Daniel, an idealistic young man, and begin a new life.
Meridia quickly discovers that Daniel’s family is not what they seem. The formidable matriarch, Eva, who has a swarm of angry bees at her behest, maliciously manipulates those around her. Meridia increasingly challenges her mother-in-law’s authority, culminating in a battle to save her marriage and protect her husband and son…and bringing to light a long-held secret that connects their two families.
Spanning three decades, from Meridia’s birth through marriage, motherhood, and the years beyond, Of Bees and Mist is an intriguing family saga, a bittersweet love story, and a richly atmospheric fable.
Questions for Discussion
1. Of Bees and Mist is written in the style of magical realism, which combines realistic scenarios with fantastical or improbable elements. Did you enjoy this method of storytelling? Why or why not? Discuss the significance of the bees and the mist. Why do you think Setiawan chose these elements for the title?
2. Of Bees and Mist opens with the line, “Few in town agreed on when the battle began.” When did the animosity between Meridia and Eva start? Why, until Meridia came along, did no one in the family question Eva’s manipulative ways or stand up to her? How successful is Meridia in challenging Eva over the years?
3. “The music of Eva’s laughter, her strong arms and steady gaze—these, [Meridia] believed, held the power to dispel neglect, loneliness, and the unremitting curse of forgetfulness” (page 66). Why did Meridia so misjudge Eva during their first meeting? If Eva never liked Meridia, as she claims, why did she give Daniel permission to marry her?
4. Discuss Meridia’s relationship with each of her parents. What does Meridia come to understand about her mother over the years? How about her father?
5. Share your thoughts on Daniel, who alternates between supporting Meridia and succumbing to his mother’s demands. Why does it take him so long—and so many hardships—to finally see Eva’s true nature?
6. Eva intimidates and manipulates the members of her family, from Patina and Meridia to her husband and children. What is your opinion of Eva? What were her motives in encouraging a marriage between Permony and Ahab?
7. Malin changes dramatically during the course of the story. What accounts for her shift in feelings for Meridia and Permony? What causes her hostility toward Eva, particularly since she had always been her mother’s favored daughter?
8. Discuss the instances in which Hannah appears in Meridia’s life. Is Hannah an imaginary friend, a spirit, or something else?
9. How is Meridia’s departure from Daniel’s family home shortly after their wedding a turning point in their relationship? Do they ever really overcome this separation? Why or why not? What do you think the future holds for Daniel and Meridia?
10. How does having grown up witnessing her parents’ fractured marriage affect Meridia when it comes to making decisions about her own roles as a wife and mother? Does she learn from her parents’ mistakes or repeat them?
11. Meridia finally gets the evidence she needs to prove to Daniel that she knows about his infidelity. Why does Ravenna sacrifice herself to make this happen?
12. Discuss Meridia’s role in running and promoting the jewelry store. How much of its success is due to her business acumen? What later prompts her to start her own shop and design jewelry?
13. “There is too much of your mother in you,” Meridia says to Daniel. Later she wonders “how much of Eva was in her, had been in her all along” (page 401). Why does Meridia believe she might be like Eva? What similarities, if any, does she share with her mother-in-law?
14. The author does not name a time or a place where the book is set. Did this enhance or detract from your reading of the story, and why?
Enhance Your Book Club
Feast on some of the fanciful foods mentioned in the book like pineapple soda, plum sweets, strawberry sandwiches, lemon cookies, cream cakes, rice pudding, and cherry ice cream topped with chocolate sauce. Or serve pastries and tea like Meridia does in her jewelry shop.
In honor of Meridia’s interest in gems, ask everyone to wear their favorite piece of jewelry and share the story of how they got it and why it’s special.
Pair your reading of Of Bees and Mist with another magical realism tale, such as one by South American writer Gabriel Gárcia Márquez.
A Conversation with Erick Setiawan
Q: What inspired you to begin writing fiction? What sparked the idea for Of Bees and Mist?
A: I began writing fiction when I was still working as a software engineer. A year into the job, I realized that it was the wrong profession for me, and I found myself spending more time reading novels instead of keeping up with the latest computer technology. All that reading inspired me to begin writing, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I never took a writing course or joined a writers’ group, and since English is not my first language, I was often plagued by a crippling sense of inadequacy. This went on for years. I wrote two novels and countless short stories before Of Bees and Mist, and they were horrible and received hundreds of rejections. But I soldiered on. When the idea for Of Bees and Mist came to me in the summer of 2004, I thought this one might be special.
The origin for the book came from the family stories and tales I had collected over the years. I was very shy as a child growing up in Indonesia, and instead of playing with the neighbors’ kids, I would sit in my mother’s living room and listen to her talk to my aunts and our family friends. They were always full of stories, and no subject was ever taboo among them (I learned about S&M in kindergarten—from their discussion of a couple they knew who liked to beat each other up in the bedroom. Because I was so quiet, I suppose they often forgot that I was in the room). Their outlook on life, I realized later, was a curious mix of traditional Chinese values and Indonesian superstitions. Over the years, my mind became a sort of kitchen sink for these stories—all knotted and tangled up with no rhyme or reason. The book was my attempt to sort them (and by extension, my childhood) into some kind of order. I wanted the book to capture the joys and sorrows and intrigues that once pervaded the innermost worlds of these women.
Q: What compelled you to write a female-driven family saga? Was it difficult to write a novel primarily from women’s perspectives?
A: Because of all that time I spent in my mother’s living room eavesdropping on her conversations, it was a natural and obvious choice for me to write this book from the female characters’ perspectives. I wanted to honor those women who had shared their stories with me (whether they knew it or not), and I don’t think I could have done this if I had written the book from a man’s point of view. Furthermore, I always find the way women strategize and confront life’s challenges to be infinitely more fascinating. Men frequently settle their differences with fists, but women need to be more inventive and resourceful. Their tactics are subtler, more intricate, but often more deadly. To me, all these ingredients make for a riveting family saga.
Q: You were born in Indonesia to Chinese parents, and then as a teenager you moved to the United States. In what ways does Of Bees and Mist reflect the different cultures of your upbringing?
A: I think of the book as a tapestry woven from the different threads of my cultural influences—Indonesian, Chinese, and American. Indonesian culture in particular is deeply rooted in folklore, legends, and superstitions. When we were little, my brothers and I had a Javanese nanny who liked to tell us bedtime stories. She was the one who introduced me to my first ghosts and spirits, and thanks to her, I spent many a night convinced that there was a jinn hiding under my bed. She was also a Muslim, which made her stories a curious blend of ancient Javanese superstitions and Islamic beliefs. It was from her stories that I conjured the ghosts and spirits that roam the town, and it was her beliefs that informed much of the superstition in the book. One example is Eva’s habit of cutting roses to hang above the shop door for good luck—this is my spin on a common Indonesian practice of giving offerings to placate evil spirits. Another example is Eva taking precautions to eliminate every imaginable catastrophe during Malin’s pregnancy, a ritual prevalent among traditional Indonesian families. The part about Ahab being a half-swine, half-human creature stems from a Javanese legend about a demonic beast who plunders houses while people sleep.
The book also reflects my Chinese upbringing, or what little I was allowed to experience. Because of the widespread anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia, I grew up disowning and despising much of my Chinese identity. In fact, the only bit of Chinese culture I loved and was exposed to in those years were the Hong Kong martial arts movies. Inspired by them, I dreamed up my own mythical land of witchcraft and magic, where invincible men combat villains with lightning-quick swords and formidable women soar to the sky on swirling silk. It is this atmosphere of sorcery and enchantment that I aimed to create in the book, both as an homage to those movies and a nostalgic remembrance of the only part of my Chinese heritage I was permitted to embrace. Hence, Ravenna flies on a rapid sailor’s breeze when she goes to visit Meridia after Noah’s birth. Eva bewitches the cockatoo. Gabriel disappears inside the mist much like the heroes in those movies vanish as they elude their pursuers.
The third ingredient I mixed into the book is my American influence. The fact that Meridia dares to defy Eva strikes me as very American. No wife in a traditional Chinese or Indonesian family would even think about standing up to her mother-in-law in this way. The same goes when Meridia so decisively leaves Daniel to pursue her own destiny—in Chinese or Indonesian society, a woman with a child would pause more than a dozen times before doing this. In addition, the book also owes much of its existence to my reading of Western literature. In a way, Of Bees and Mist is my tribute to all the books that have shown me different means of using language to tell a story. Great Expectations. Beloved. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Wuthering Heights. The way the yellow mist knocks on Gabriel’s window comes from a line of T. S. Eliot. The confrontations between Meridia and Daniel are inspired by the dialogs between Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska in The Age of Innocence. These are only instances I remember.
Q: The setting of the story is never defined. Why did you decide to leave the time and place ambiguous?
A: I wanted to capture my various cultural influences as explained above, but I knew I couldn’t set the story in a real city or a real country, since there is no place in the world where Chinese traditions and Indonesian occultism and American ideology coexist seamlessly side by side at any given time in history. What I needed was a completely imagined geography with its own confluence of customs and cultures, where someone of diverse origins like myself would feel at home and not be considered an outsider. The answer is the timeless, mythical town in the book, where the inexplicable and the supernatural exert as much influence and authority as logic and individual will. Erecting that town allows me the freedom to borrow from different cultures and different times and to construct my own brand of legends and mythology.
Q: Why did you decide to write a novel in the style of magical realism? How does it enhance the story you wanted to tell?
A: The original early chapters of the book had no magical realist elements. After a few months of tinkering with them, I realized that something was lacking, but I had no idea what it was. They seemed too straightforward, too constrained, too unexceptional, particularly the part where Eva was venting for the first time. People complain every single day—why should this one woman’s grumbling be so special? And then my father, who was visiting from Indonesia at the time, told me a story about a friend of his who was often kept up at nights by bees. I was confused, and asked him if his friend was a beekeeper. My father laughed, and said that it was the friend’s wife who was depriving the poor man of sleep with her grievances, which sounded exactly like bees buzzing. The idea hit me like a bolt of lightning. The bees were the perfect physical manifestation of Eva’s grudges, and at once I knew what the book had been lacking. I went back to the chapters I had already written, and began to infuse them with elements of magical realism. I remember writing about Gabriel’s infidelity and suddenly coming upon the idea of the mist as a fitting metaphor for his situation. To me, a veil of mist is enchanting, brooding, otherworldly, and mysterious at the same time. It implies secrecy, omissions, things hidden and never spoken. In this same way, the different mists in the book conceal Gabriel, carry him to a different world, protect his secret, hide his shame, keep other people away from it. Whenever Gabriel plunges into those mists, he becomes another man. Just like Eva and her bees, the mists strike me as the perfect physical representation of Gabriel’s—and later Daniel’s—inner turmoil.
Q: Are any of the characters based on people you know? (Yes, we mostly want to know about Eva.)
A: Eva is based on my paternal grandmother. Mention her name today and my mother still shivers with horror. Filled with distrust and discontent, my grandmother had ten children whom she constantly set at odds so they would always rely on her for support and mediation. She demanded attention every second of the day, treated her daughters-in-law with a scrutiny worthy of a jailer, was so quick to anger and impossible to pacify that my mother called her by many an unpleasant name. I took my grandmother’s darkest side and implanted it in Eva, but it was also foremost in my mind that Eva should be resourceful and irresistible, since I did not want a character with nothing good or redemptive about her. Another character who has a real-life inspiration is Gabriel, who is based on my maternal grandfather. Like Gabriel, my grandfather had both a mistress and a temper, and was often so tyrannical that his friends likened him to Mao Zedong. Thankfully, as is often the case with tyrants, he was nothing but the kindest soul to his grandchildren. For one, I never experienced any of Noah’s sweat-soaked paralysis when I was around him.
Q: Meridia is fascinated by the gems that are her and Daniel’s livelihood, and she later designs her own jewelry. Did you have an interest in gemology prior to writing Of Bees and Mist, or did you learn about it while writing the novel?
A: I grew up in Kenanga Alley—Jakarta’s jewelry district in the old days—and both of my grandfathers were jewelers (they were actually business rivals, since their shops were across the street from each other). When I was a child, I was fascinated by the contents of my grandfathers’ display cases, the colorful stones littering their desks, their fireproof vaults, and the tiny sparkling brilliants they wrapped so meticulously in blue tissue paper. In the back of each shop was an area where the craftsmen worked, and I used to watch them set diamonds, melt gold, hammer silver. But my pedigree aside, I’m ashamed to say that I know very little about gemology! While writing the book, I had to do a bit of research to familiarize myself with the names of precious stones and their properties. What I remember most is spending hours at my grandfathers’ shops and observing them interact with customers. It was the memory of those bygone days that compelled me to choose the jewelry business as Meridia and Daniel’s livelihood.
Q: Who are some of the writers you admire? Is magical realism master Gabriel Gárcia Márquez among them?
A: Gárcia Márquez is certainly one of my idols—he taught me how to look for magic both in life and in prose. Other writers I admire are Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, W. Somerset Maugham, and Toni Morrison. I go through periods when I read only mysteries, only short stories, only Evelyn Waugh. I think Dennis Lehane is an incredible writer, and like everyone else, I’m waiting for Jhumpa Lahiri’s next book.
Q: What has the reaction been to the novel from your family, friends, and early readers?
A: My family—my father included—is waiting for the Indonesian translation. My mother, who understands a bit more English, I haven’t allowed anywhere near the book, since I have a feeling she will read it and say, “Why did you make Eva so nice? She’s an angel compared to your grandmother!” My friends who have read it were pleasantly surprised. Before, they called me odd. Now, they call me interesting. The reaction from early readers has been the best. They are so excited and passionate about the book, and the fact that they are neither related to nor acquainted with me is sufficient proof that their enthusiasm is genuine.
Q: Do you plan to write another novel? If so, what can you tell us about it?
A: I am working on another novel, and I’m very excited about it. I don’t want to say too much because I’m superstitious, but it will draw on my cultural background and experiences even more than Of Bees and Mist, and it will also have a similar tone and a gripping—I hope!—family mystery at its heart.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Erick Setiawan's debut novel Of Bees & Mist will take you on an epic journey to a mystical place. Prepare to suspend your disbelief and be jolted to an unfamiliar time and place where your imagination will be required to work overtime. This new author's creative skill is unquestionably evident in his evocative imagery which will have you really hearing the buzz of angry bees, smelling the lingering scent of verbena and finding your vision obscured by colored mists. This dark fairy tale features many engaging characters but mainly traces a character called Meridia. She grows up in a cold, lonely and loveless home full of deceit and humiliation. During her childhood she struggles to uncover the mysteries of her parents' marriage and the mists which strangle their home. When Meridia marries she moves into a new home that is not what it initially appears. She is forced to engage in an ongoing war with her spiteful mother-in-law in order to preserve herself and the love of her husband. Over and over again she must reach inside herself and connect with her inner strength in order to survive. There are many bizarre elements in this book which can be interpreted metaphorically or literally. The strange occurrences seem to dramatize the dynamics within a dysfunctional family and describe negative emotions as they would look if released visibly. The mist which hovers over the house also hovers over the book in general. I loved the ambiguity of the time and place in which the book is set. The more questions a good book evokes in our minds the better. I enjoy a book that is open to numerous possible interpretations because you can interact with it more. You can play with the ideas, language and setting in your own mind and build upon the scaffolding put up by the author. Of Bees and Mist is such a book. Setiawan's book depicts the universal theme of good against evil. It has a very dramatic feel in the way it slowly builds up to a crescendo. His unique interpretation of the theme places the battle in a fantasy realm and on a domestic scale. Essentially this book is about real family relationships; the hate, jealousy, betrayal, manipulation and ultimately love that binds people together. Of Bees & Mist is a timeless book that not only invites numerous readings but will echo in your subconscious long after you have savored every word.
In his debut novel, Erick Setiawan tells the story of two families, three generations brought together by marriage. This is a story of love, hate, heartache, betrayal, long buried secrets and strength. It is a story of complex relationships between husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, a mother and son and a young woman and her new in-laws. The author uses mysticism, fantasy, magic and symbolism to describe the day to day events in the lives of these two families and the methods they choose to cope with their stuggles. His unique writing style draws the reader deep into the story from the very beginning. There are some twists and surprises and the ending is not predictable. This is a book that will stay with you long after you read the last line of the last chapter.
First off, the cover of this book is amazing. The story is timeless. The magic is interwoven so seemlessly that you could really believe it. The symbolism in this book really kept me on my toes with meaning and double meaning. This book is a fairy tale for grown-ups. Although the main character of the story is Meridia, how she grows up, marries young and becomes a strong women in her own right. Erick Setiawan did a remarkable job in also telling the story of Ravenna, (Meridia's mother) and Eva, (Meridia's mother-in-law) and how all three shaped the lives of their families and those around them. Mr. Setiawan's style of writing was easy to follow and made this book a totally enjoyable read.
Of Bees and Mist opened up a world previously unknown to me. A world where women can grow herbs out of their arms and chest, mist haunts the front door, and men can swallow vegetables whole and spit them out chopped, seasoned and pickled. There was something almost fantastical about the writing style. For some reason, as I read the book, which flowed with a surrealism and slight goth-like feel, I was reminded of children's stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (atleast the happy Gene Wilder movie version) and Neverending Story. You know how I can tell that I really like a book? I find myself taking notes while I read, wanting to make sure that I quote a favorite passage and get down my feelings at a particular moment. Much of my review on a "great book" is written during the reading of the book, so everything is fresh. I did that a LOT with this book. I guess this book wasn't really anything like I expected, and quite honestly if you were to give me details about it ahead of time I probably never would have read it. I wouldn't have expected to find a book written with such fantastical flavor, and which at times can be somewhat dark and heavy, so charming. Really a lovely and impressive debut by Mr. Setiawan. I look forward to seeing what rabbit he has hiding up his sleeve next. I jumped right into this book without really even taking in the cover art. Someone in the book discussion pointed out all of the hidden pictures to be found in the cover art-- pictures that are like little windows into Meridia's life. This book follows the often sad and bewildering life of Meridia, swallowed up in a world reminiscent of a Harry Potter book. You really feel for Meridia, and just want to take her in your arms and shelter her. You keep waiting for someone to do this. "Where is her protector?", you keep wondering in frustration. "Where is her shelter from the world? Her lee from the wind? Will no one be her champion?" I've said in the past that I'm not a "book club" kind of gal-- that I don't want to sit around and discuss books and symbolism. I just want to read a good story. I have to say that this book has shown that not to be entirely true. This book is FULL of symbolism, and I found that I LOVED it. Additionally it was a wonderfully good story and kept me totally absorbed. A remarkable debut novel, and highly recommended. Love it, love it, love it!
Of Bees and Mist is a fairy tale for adults, full of fanciful features meant to symbolize pieces of the life of the main character, a young woman named Meridia. It is also something of a coming of age story. While many readers seem to find the book enchanting, for me the "magic" and metaphors were ludicrously exaggerated. Meridia's life is a misery from first page to last. Her parents come across as barely human, and they raise their daughter in a cold, misty void. Meridia's only "friend", Hannah, is obviously Meridia's inner self, the strength that lies buried within. Her husband is spineless, her mother in law a gross caricature of a harpy from hell (she's the one with the bees, an endless, malevolent supply of them.) The more minor characters are treated as pawns. For me, reading Of Bees and Mist was a bleak, disagreeable experience. I cannot recommend it, but would suggest to those considering giving it a try that they read the positive reviews as well, before making a decision one way or another.
Meridia's home contains all types of magical spells and demons; not all kind. She thinks she will escape her hell of her dysfunctional battling parents when she falls in love with her knight in shining armor. She knows Daniel will rescue her. However, Meridia had not counted on his family especially his mother making her parents look harmonious. Eva is abusive to everyone but especially her new daughter in law. She uses bees as spies and weapons of mass destruction. Her treatment of others including Meridia has her finally fighting back as Daniel fails to intercede between the two women in his life. This is an interesting adult fairy tale parable that exaggerates Meridia's overall purity and the evilness of her parents and mother-in-law; the spouse is a wuss who chooses neither side in the extended family war of good and evil. Ghosts and killer bees add excitement to the mix, but Meridia as victim in her parents' home and Meridia as victim in her husband's home is too frequent with little respite as Erick Setiawan argues that adhering to the Golden Rule does not mean others will likewise. Still sub-genre readers will enjoy the war between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law while the man who links them stays docilely neutral. Harriet Klausner
Of Bees and Mist falls into the 'magic-realist' fiction category and I have to say, that I don't think that I have ever read a book quite like this one. Meridia falls in love with Daniel and moves into his family's home. There she encounters Eva, the mother-in-law from hell. Eva is so wicked and vile that when she goes to work on you, bees fly out of her mouth to attack you. Needless to say, her words sting quite a bit. Elias, her husband is good at heart, but has a terrible time living with his wife and fights are a daily occurrence. At first, Meridia tries her best to get along with her mother-in-law, but all that ends when she has her own child and sees Eva for who she really is. This of course causes all sorts of problems between Meridia and her husband, Daniel. Reading this book was like taking a trip to the circus. Not the circus you and I know today, but a circus from years past. The colorful tents, the jugglers, the musicians, the smell of circus food wafting in the air. This book had a FEELING to it. Every time I picked it up I felt as if I was taken back in time to this magical place. I really enjoyed it. The only criticism I have is that the Meridia/Eva battle seemed to go on a tad too long and it sort of overshadowed the interactions between some of the other characters. Overall, I was charmed by this book and wonder what Erick Setiawan is working on next.
I got this book in First Look Bookclub and have to say I liked it too much. What to say of a woman who buzzes like bees and a house full of mists? A man who hates his child and for years doesn't talk to his wife? A mysterious atmospehere rounds all the book. If you like stories full of magical powers, fables, rounded of adventures, love and overcomings so this is the story you have to read. An absorbing book!
If you like mystery, magicalyt powers, and a good love story then this book will be for you. I liked the main character Meridia. She is strong and knows what she wants. The love story between her and Daniel is excellent and to be admired. My mother in law looks good compared to Meridia's. I am anxious to read other books from this new writer.
I signed up for the Barnes and Noble First Look Club to receive this book. Although completely outside the realm of what I normally read, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was a little confused at first, and wasn't sure I would like this book. But, I gave it a chance. The characters were rich, although not everyone of them was pleasant. The story was easy to keep wrapped up into. I enjoyed the magic elements, which felt to me like the could be part of everyday life. I felt like the characters were easy to identify with even with the magic. I liked that the story could have taken place anywhere and anytime. Overall 2 thumbs up for a great debut book from a new author.
The beginning was confusing for me. I realized that I had to let myself be "in the story". Then I was able to understand and appreciate the characters. All the characters were strong; and I found myself projecting what would happen only to be surprised later. It was an exciting story and I look forward to other works of Mr. Setiawan.
This is my first First Look Book Club experience and it was very interesting. The book was different from anything that I'd read before. When I began, it seemed very too slow. I kept hoping that there would be more action, less of the sadness. Fortunately, the book became more absorbing as Meredia took more control over her life. I enjoyed reading about her "becoming normal" and her friendships with her new neighbors after she moved into her own home. I think that not everyone will like this book, but those who do will truly enjoy it.
Meridia grows up in a family where her mother and father both treat her horribly. Her parents seem to forget that Meridia even exists. She then meets Daniel and hopes that her life will change for the better. She moves in with Daniel's family and soon things are worse than they were with her own parents. Daniel's mother is wonderful at first, then her true colors start showing and Meridia is stuck between her husband and her mother-in-law. It is a war and both women are determined to win... I am probably the only person on the planet who didn't just love this book! I thought it was just plain strange. There are lots of unusual things happening in this story from mysterious mists, to swarms of bees, and all kinds of other strange things. I got frustrated with the never ending obstacles facing Miridia-she goes from one battle to the next. She never seems to catch a break and it gets old after a while. The characters were vibrant and very real, but the story just didn't do it for me.
I started this book with an open mind. It had a magical opening with a haunted house covered in mists. However, the story line did not live up to expectation. It is neither a fairy tale or a myth. It is a story of a couple of dysfunctional families and how they destroyed each other. The ending was anticlimatic. There was no "moral" as in fairy tale, and it did not give a mythical tale to explain "This is how........."
For a first book, it has some strong points. Erick has weaved scents/fragrances theme that evoke strong memories and feelings throughout the story. A strong set of characters cemented the storyline. The best is the character of Eva as the epitome of the evil in-law. I was disappointed in the ending because I would have liked Eva to have a stronger part in the ending. The book could have weaved the magic/mysticism with the real life of the characters better to keep the flow. The characters were so strong that sometimes the mysticism seemed superfluous. I liked that the fragrance theme was continued out til the last section. I liked the fragrances and I thought that the use of fragrance was done well throughout the book.
Meridia lives in a world that weaves midevil times (there are no cars), present (there are telephones) and magic. I was sucked in instantly by the wonderful writing and imagery throughout. Meridia is a lonely child who doesn't have much contact with the outside world until she meets Daniel at a street fair at the age of 16. She falls in love with him instantly and they marry. At first, everything is wonderful, but soon enough her mother-in-law intrudes upon their happiness. Meridia, using skills learned from both her mother and her mother-in-law, is able to withstand the barrage of torment while remaining a sympathetic character. The story may be a little cliche, but I felt the characters were well-developed and believable and I had a hard time putting this one down.
I have to say, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect with this one. It was billed as an 'adult fable', set in a world similar to ours but where magic and mysticism was real. Surprisingly, it wasn't hokey or overbearing... in fact, the world of the book was exactly like ours, but for a few supernatural elements that fit into place as smoothly as, say... that final Christmas tree ornament that doesn't distract from everything around it, but simply pulls everything together and makes it look complete. The story follows three women and the men in their lives, and I was surprised at how well Setiawan was able to write sympathetic female characters. I can't say the book was entirely driven by a central plot, more like a central idea... and at times I felt like I was simply observing the lives of people rather than being engaged in a story, and yet... it worked. I kept reading. I was intrigued and wanted to see where it went, what these bizarre people would do next, and how they would manipulate each other over and over again. I'll admit it - I haven't quite figured out yet what the point of the whole thing was, but I do know that I put the book down with a pleasant feeling of time well spent, and a knowing that I would easily recommend it to others. If you want to know more about the story itself, perhaps read a synopsis on the website here, as I don't want to give away too much about the people within its pages before you get to know them on your own.
Of Bees and Mist is a magical tale of love and jealousy between two families across three generations. There are haunted houses, vengeful bees, concealing mists, and every sort of magic, good and bad, that you can imagine. The writing is richly descriptive and lyrical and the characters are drawn in detail with full, fantastic histories backing them up. Magical realism is a favorite genre and I enjoyed Of Bees and Mist. It did seem that Setiawan was a bit unnecessarily harsh on his characters, the calamities are unrelenting and even the best of people can't seem to catch a break. They don't seem to learn much as they fight the same battles over and over throughout the book. Still, the characters were unique and interesting and the writing beautiful. An original debut novel, I look forward to seeing what Erick Setiawan writes next.I listened to the audio version of the book and Marguerite Gavin captures the character's voices well. The swarms of bees and enchanted, enraged men especially come across in her narrative interpretation.
I LOVED this book and it is one of my top 10. The characters and setting easily came to life in my mind and I really felt like I got to know the characters, which I find important in any great book. Hannah¿s character leaves me wondering if she was real or was part of Meridia `s imagination when she needed her. Beautiful metaphors, beautiful book. I think of it as an adult fairy tale/magical realism, but it isn¿t so much that should turn people off that might not care for something in that genre. I really wish it wouldn¿t have ended. I can¿t wait for what comes next from Erick Setiawan.
Of Bees and MistI had the opportunity to read Of Bees and Mist as part of Barnes & Noble's First Look club. I like magic and fantasy, but this book did not 'do it' for me. Yes, I read it all, and went back to re-read parts to see what I was perhaps missing that other readers were getting from it. I never did find that magic. I did find that the over-exaggeration of magic and metaphors got me les and less 'enchanted' with it. Of Bees and Mist is a fairy tale for adults. It is also somewhat of a coming of age story for it's main character, Mederia, and her miserable life. Her parents were virtually non-existent for her. Meridia's only "friend", Hannah, was/is too obviously Meridia's internal hopes and dreams. Her husband is spineless and lets his mother dictate his life. I cannot recommend reading Of Bees and Mist, despite the many good reviews. However, you may find the magic that was missing for me.
Setiawan's debut novel presents a world in which strong emotions can manifest as a physical phenomena, where spirits are real and quite taken for granted and where magic is as real as cruelty--and as ruinous. In Meridia, the author has created a wonderfully strong positive female character, balanced by an equally strong negative in the form of her scheming and malicious mother-in-law, Eva. Most of the remaining characters, while sympathetic, are significantly less dimensional. The chief charm of the book lies in the way Setiawan has applied magical realism to what is, essentially, a series of tragic and interlocking domestic dramas. I will look forward to future work from this author.
Of Bees And MistByErick SetiawanI don¿t think that I have words to describe this book. I can honestly say I have never read a book like this before. Ever. In my entire life. I can not even begin to tell you what kind of book this is. I think to accurately describe it I could say it had every mystical thing in it other than vampires and werewolves. There was a huge amount of unexplainable mysterious stuff going on in this book. The mist was the first oddity¿the bees came much later. The mind of this author is quite an astonishing thing. I have no clue how he put all of this together into the literally spell binding piece of literature that I have been reading all week long. I feel a bit empty now that I have finished it. I will attempt to briefly highlight the story.First of all there was the birth of Meredia. And since that was not normal at all it sort of set the scene for everything else that happened. Meredia was a huge character in the book but there were so many other huge characters. Really. Tons of them. After reading this book I am not even sure of the era. There was so much magic and mystery that I did not even care but I think it was a long long time ago in a far away place...almost positive. It was a story of families and love and nightmares and magic¿this ever pervading unexplainable magic. The magic was everywhere. And¿to be truthful¿not all of the magic was good¿it was frightening and surprising. It is also a story of families and love and a horrible evil. And I think it is a story of one woman¿s strength and beauty and courage among so many things that could send the best of us under the covers. Now that I have totally not explained this book¿I can honestly say I loved it. It sort of made me queasy in the beginning but I learned to love this story. I felt caught up in it and spun around by it and totally taken over by it.The author is amazing, the book was stunning, and I can¿t believe I am finished with it. I wasn¿t quite ready for it to end.So¿what do I think you should do? Hmmm¿if you love an intense story¿you should not pass up this book. If you love a quirky magical story¿you should definitely read this book.This book is my own personally purchased Kindled copy.
Book OverviewOf Bees and Mist takes place in a world that is like ours but not quite. In this world that is betwixt and between, we come to know Meridia¿a lonely girl who grows up in a freezing cold house with a staircase that takes on different forms, a stern and distant father who vanishes and reappears in mists, and a loving but absent-minded mother who speaks her own secret language. Meridia struggles to understand the coldness of the house and the odd relationship between her parents. A recurring dream seems to hold the key¿but whenever she is on the brink of discovering the meaning of the dream, the mists, and her parents¿ behavior, something prevents her from learning the truth.One day, Meridia attends a local fair filled with spiritualists and seers. Just 16, she finds herself drawn to a handsome young man named Daniel. When fate seemingly brings them together, Meridia is overjoyed to find a way out of her lonely life. Daniel¿s family seems to have everything Meridia has been searching for¿including a beautiful and involved matriarch, Eva. Although Daniel and Meridia¿s romance face some stumbling blocks, they eventually marry. After the wedding, Meridia begins to realize that her new home might not be as wonderful as she thought. It starts with missing wedding presents and slowly escalates as Eva methodically assets control over Meridia and her life.But Meridia¿s mother has taught her to be strong, and when Meridia begins to assert herself, Eva finds she has met her match. As tensions escalate and the war between Eva and Meridia worms its way into the next generation, each woman uses all her considerable skills and magic to defeat the other¿uncovering long-buried family secrets and almost destroying each other in the process.My ThoughtsThis book has such a different feel that it is hard to describe the sense of familiarity and strangeness you get while reading. Setiawan never really defines the world where Meridia is living¿it seems similar to ours yet is filled with magic, witchcraft and strange beings. This is a world where the evil mother-in-law gets her way by sending out a swarm of buzzing bees to fill her victim¿s head with malicious and destructive thoughts. A world where a husband might turn out to be a demon, and swarms of fireflies can extract vengeance for a wronged party. Yet although conflicts may be fought with magic and spells and the scent of verbena, the characters are dealing with very human issues¿adultery, betrayal, cruelty, frigidity, and competition. I think if Setiawan had chosen to tell his story in a more conventional way, it would feel utterly familiar¿a husband seeks solace in a mistress when his wife turns frigid, a new marriage is threatened by competition between wife and mother-in-law, a son who sides with his mother against his father. Yet the book becomes more than a ¿domestic drama¿ by the author¿s choice to set the drama in such a strange and fantastical environment.In some ways, Of Bees and Mist feels a bit like a fairy tale. Yet, at the same time, the magic aspect is treated as commonplace and ordinary. I suppose that makes it ¿magical realism¿¿along the lines of books like Alice Hoffman¿s Practical Magic or even John Connolly¿s The Book of Lost Things. If you enjoy these ¿of our world but not quite¿ books, Of Bees and Mist would be quite a treat. In the end, I found it to be an involving domestic drama where conflict was settled with bees, mist, fireflies and moments of pure magic.
I picked up Of Bees and Mist on a random perusal of the book store, and immediately jumped into it with relish. The story is a fairy tale just outside the realms of the real world, standing timeless in the past, present, or future. Setiawan uses wonderful physical entities (mist, bees, fireflies, cold) to describe human emotion, suffering and conflicts. The writing is strong, provoking, and inspirational. The author doesn't talk down to his readers, and lets you decide what is real, what is symbolism, and how you feel about each character he presents to you. I can only hope that Erick Setiawan writes another novel, and another, because the only disappointment in this book is when you finish the last sentence and you have to find another book to top the masterpiece of adult fairy tale that you just read.
A very imaginative first novel. The type of story that keeps you thinking long after you've finished reading it.