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Book Review – Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

SynopsisOf Bees and Mist is an engrossing fable that chronicles three generations of women under one family tree and places them in a mythical town where spirits and spells, witchcraft and demons, and prophets and clairvoyance are an everyday reality.

Meridia grows up in a lonely home until she falls in love with Daniel at age sixteen. Soon, they marry, and Meridia can finally escape to live with her charming husbands familyunaware that they harbor dark mysteries of their own. As Meridia struggles to embrace her life as a young bride, she discovers long-kept secrets about her own past as well as shocking truths about her new family that push her love, courage, and sanity to the brink.

Erick Setiawans astonishing debut is a richly atmospheric and tumultuous ride of hope and heartbreak that is altogether touching, truthful, and memorable.

First Line:  “Few in town agreed on when the battle began.”

Random Quote:  “Every night she feasted on her memory of Daniel.  Neglecting her studies, she summoned him through sighs and whispers, rendering in her mind his deep eyes and chiseled jaw and full lips parted on the verge of a kiss.  At the stroke of midnight, the smell of his skin magically filled the room, a heady scent of sun and sea that braced her unlike anything she had ever known.”

Review:  I believe that the thing that differentiates us from the other great apes (like chimpanzees with which we share 99% of our DNA) is storytelling. Its not tool use (see also chimps and some birds), its not agricultural, its not brain size, its partly bipedalism and use of fire, but its all about storytelling. We use storytelling to pass on traditions, family histories, and to explain and orient ourselves to the world around us, to entertain, and to build connections with each other. Whether its a story rooted in tradition or folk knowledge or one rooted in calculations and experimentation its all storytelling. We became human the first time we sat around a fire and started telling each other stories.

 

Of Bees and Mist is rooted in fairy tale. Mr. Setiawan uses a lot of the traditional forms and archetypes as he tells this story that is in part its setting and in part a familiar domestic drama. I loved how much you can project on this book (like in all fairy tales), putting yourself and your own context into the fabric of the tale. Its filled with metaphor and twists and turns that are typical to the magic of fairy tales. It isnt a book based on a particular story, but rather it is itself intrinsically grounded in the fairy tale form.

At its core this book is also an attempt by Mr. Setiawan to express himself and to create a setting that is reflective of his own broad history. He is Chinese, born in Indonesia, came to the States as a teenager, educated at Stanford, and currently living in San Francisco and all of these elements in his life history come together in this book.

The books setting is a mélange that is representative of life here in the Bay Area where so many different cultural influences come together. I was delighted by this element throughout and it made think of two neighborhood fast food joints that I frequent here in San Leandro that are essentially next door to each other. I loved that there is a mix of Asian, Mexican, and American/European folk elements braided together into the tale.
Theres Quickly, a pan-Asian fast food place that serves all kinds of bubble teas, snows, and ices in flavors like Mango and Cantaloupe, but also Litchi and Red Bean, Taro Root and Rose. They also serve little noshes from egg rolls and dumplings to Vietnamese sandwiches and various kinds of noodle soup. At the other end is Kaspars your basic hot dog joint. Its been in business for 40 years in the Oakland area and youre not going to get a gourmet sausage there just basic all-American (by way of German immigrants) hot dogs plus they serve tamales and chili. Between them is a hair salon whose owner is Korean and the local Police Benevolent Association. Its a representative little block of Bay Area diversity that co-exists happily.

This book has the single best cover art and website of any book Ive read in 2010. Whoever did the graphic design elements really understands the core essentials of this story. These elements definitely enhance marketability, but they also enhance the readers experience. Visit the website to get a taste of what I mean.

There are a few problems with the book. Some of the dialogue feels forced and there are portions throughout where I can feel the authors discomfort as if hes not sure where to go next. It also needed one more thorough edit before publication to prune some of the embellishments and leave the core of the beautiful story. This doesnt take much away from the book and Ill definitely read the next book that Mr. Setiawan writes hes a talented writer with his own unique perspective and itll be interesting to see where he takes us next.

I’m pleased to be on the tour for this unique and wonderful novel.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me!  Be sure to visit the other stops on Mr. Setiawan’s tour – this is a book that I suspect will generate a lot of discussion and a broad range of opinions.

 

Erick Setiawans TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS

Thursday, October 7th: Rundpinne

Tuesday, October 12th: LifeWith Books

Wednesday, October 13th: Ms.Bookish.com (author interview)

Thursday, October 14th: Books and Things

Tuesday, October 19th: The Whimsical Cottage

Wednesday, October 20th: Literary Feline

Tuesday, October 26th: YA Addicts

Friday, October 29th: See Michelle Read

Monday, November 1st: Missys Reads & Reviews

Tuesday, November 2nd: Chaotic Compendiums

Wednesday, November 3rd: Jenny Loves to Read

Thursday, November 4th: The Lost Entwife

Tuesday, November 9th: In the Next Room

Wednesday, November 10th: Fyreflys Book Blog

Thursday, November 11th: YA Bookshelf

Friday, November 12th: The Brain Lair

Monday, November 15th: Ashleys Bookshelf

Published inMain

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