Thursday, March 4, 2010

Of Bees and Mist - Erick Setiawan

I grabbed this book off the shelf at Barnes & Noble because it has beautiful cover art. I then flipped to the back flap to learn that the author, a Stanford grad living in San Francisco, grew up in Indonesia but is of Chinese descent. I am always eager to read books by Stanford alums, particularly those who are local - and of course I have a bias in favor of Asian and Asian-American writers. So, this one fit the bill. Of Bees and Mist is the story of Meridia - the sad only child of parents who don't quite seem to know how or want to love her. When he is barely old enough, she runs away into the arms of her first-love, Daniel. Only to discover that her new mother-in-law is a bigger nightmare than she could have ever imagined. Setiawan employs elements of magical-realism and the gothic in telling his story of trechery, revenge, and manipulation in the two families spanning over thirty years. The writing and fantastic elements of the story reminded me of The Shadow of the Wind (which I absolutely loved). But, at times, the evil mother-in-law character became too much for me - she had no redeeming qualities, and there was no explanation for how she came to be so twisted or the nature of her power to control her husband and those around her. Much of the actions of the characters are motivated by hatred, and the characters don't seem to learn much from all that they lose because of the grudges they hold. In this way, I found the story so sad and unfulfilling. But, I do think Setiawan was able to evoke a feeling of terror - no easy task - and his ability to create beautiful magical imagery contributed to my desire to keep reading, even when the characters were getting on my nerves.

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