Monday, August 10, 2009

"Of Bees and Mist"

Erick Setiawan was born in 1975 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents and moved to the United States when he was sixteen. He is a graduate of Stanford University and currently lives in San Francisco.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Of Bees and Mist, his first novel, and reported the following:
I would say that page 69 is representative of the rest of the book in that it highlights the tumultuous relationship between the heroine, Meridia, and her father, Gabriel. Meridia grows up lonely and neglected, and for reasons that will remain a mystery until many years later, her father often behaves cruelly and spitefully toward her. When Meridia turns sixteen, she meets and falls in love with Daniel, the son of a jeweler. Page 69 opens with a matchmaker asking for Meridia’s hand on behalf of Daniel’s parents, but Gabriel quickly tosses him out of the house without ceremony. His reply to the matchmaker’s request? “Watch where you blow hot air. Next time, I won’t be so gentle.” This scene reveals both Gabriel’s short and violent temper, and also the powerful dominion he holds over Meridia. It’s telling that he doesn’t consult her before turning down the proposal, doesn’t think she’s mature enough to make her own decision. On subsequent pages, you’ll find Meridia battling her father for the sake of her happiness.

Page 69 also offers a glimpse of the multicultural setting of the book. I am a product of three different cultures: born in Indonesia to Chinese parents, and moved to America when I was sixteen. The book, consequently, is woven from these various cultural threads. In the fantastical town where Meridia lives, you’ll find Chinese traditions, Indonesian superstitions, and American ideology coexisting side by side. My description of the matchmaker on page 69 is my take on an old-fashioned Chinese matchmaker: “a red silk robe with wide sleeves, a golden sash across his chest, and a conical black hat that made him look like a messenger from the afterlife.” I’ll leave it to you to tease out the book’s other cultural influences.
Read an excerpt from Of Bees and Mist, and learn more about the book and Erick Setiawan at the official Of Bees and Mist website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue