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Oh my heart!

I am so, so, SO glad I read this while on Thanksgiving break from work. If I’d tried to read it during the usual midweek hustle-bustle of life, there’s no way I could have slowed down enough to hang with it. And it would have been my loss, because holy peppercorns can Erick Setiawan write.

And that’s pretty cool in itself, because if you read his (very funny) bio, he’s not a native English speaker and has harbored doubts about his writing ability, going so far as to get an advanced degree in computer science because it felt more accessible.

That he pursued his dream of fiction writing instead of churning out software code is our good fortune. Of Bees and Mist is basically a 400-page fairy tale for adults. If you’re looking to recreate the feeling of sitting on your grandmother’s lap as she told one more story before bedtime, this book will do it.

Meridia suffers a cold and isolated childhood with a distant, raging mother and critical, imperious father. Mists of varying colors surround their house by day and night, mysteriously ushering in and out strong emotions and heart-stopping betrayals. When Meridia meets an enchanting stranger at a fair in town, escape from her sadness finally seems possible. Unfortunately, married life brings unending trouble of its own, this time in the guise of her tempestuous mother-in-law, who exhales swarms of bees as she airs her grievances.

It’s one of the best feats of sustained magical realism I’ve ever read. And despite its surreal quality, I was hopelessly invested in the characters. I read the last pages with my heart in my mouth.

This isn’t the kind of book you can successfully read in ten-minute chunks. It needs time and space to breathe, to take root in your mind. For best results, wait for life to settle and slow, and serve with a hot beverage and a blanket.