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jocelyn

Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 

 

Sound of the Desert/Ballad of the Desert

I'm using this to function as a space for a book called Ballad of the Desert, which unfortunately does not have a page on Booklikes. Here is the Goodreads page though, for those of you interested.

 

Another important thing to note is that I haven't read the book yet. I have, however, watched the TV series adaptation, which from what I can tell is just about the closest you can get to a word-for-word replica of the novel, according to the one English translation I've found. I think it might even exceed BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice in terms of faithfulness to the original. But aside from that, I've been mulling over my thoughts on that show and I figured I might as well post them here, before I dive into the book and see how it measures up to the TV experience.

Some notes on the adaptation and the book: because of China's censorship policies, the English name of the adaptation became "Sound of the Desert," and all the character and place names were changed. To preserve distinction between the adaptation and the novel, I'll refer to the characters by their changed names, and when I review the book sometime in the near future, I'll refer to them by their original names.

So, my "review" of the adaptation:

How many love stories out there are actually romantic? Not many, in my experience, especially historical fiction. Either you get lots of bodice-ripping sex, or pure author contrivance in the place of real chemistry between the characters. And it's not like romance is particularly my favorite genre, but if you're going to give me a story where romance is the main focus, you'd better sell it.

So weird as it sounds what appealed to me about the adaptation was that there was actual passion between the characters. I felt who they were as people, what their hopes were and all the underlying emotions beneath their attraction to one another. The main plot of this book revolves around the frequently hated love triangle, which I admit drives me crazy too, but that's not to say that that kind of conflict is impossible to pull off. And in Sound of the Desert it was much more complex than the typical "two hot guys fall for a girl who agonizes over her choice" route. I mean, it looks like that on the surface, and there is pleeeeenty of existential angst, but it's portrayed on an equal footing with the show's sense of humor too, which does a lot to balance out the tone of the story.

It helps that the characters are fairly bursting with personality. My personal favorite, of course, was General Wei Wuji. The story's conflict is something like this: Xin Yue, a girl who lives alone in the desert after her adopted father, meets two men: "Jiu Ye" (translated to "Ninth Master"), who turns out to be a businessman, and Wei Wuji, a Han Dynasty general. She becomes pretty good friends with both of them, and when she leaves the desert for the city of Jian An--her late adopted father having always wished for her to see it one day--they are the first two people she looks for. Jiu Ye finds her first, and she starts to fall in love with him during the six months before she finally reunites with Wei Wuji.

So for the first half of the story, Wei Wuji is basically trying to "make up for lost time," so to speak. And one would think that a girl rejecting a guy's romantic advances for three years in a row would be enough to put off anyone, in addition to watching said girl openly pursue someone else, but not this guy. In the novel, Wei Wuji is actually Huo Qubing, one of the most talented generals of the Han dynasty--and a military prodigy at that, having led a successful expedition against the Xiongnu (changed to the "Jie" tribe in the TV series) by the time he was 20 years old. He's an illegitimate child, so he's had to earn his reputation through his own self-reliance and merit rather than through inherited social status, and that experience has come to shape his outlook on life--he believes that he can achieve anything he wants in life if only he doesn't give up. In that sense Wei Wuji is quite a modern character in his thinking that nothing is impossible. Naturally that philosophy applies to chasing after girls, and boy is he pretty damn confident.

Xin Yue: When I first arrived in Jian An, I was most hoping to meet you. In the end, it was Jiu Ye who found me first.
Wei Wuji: Some things in life are simply lost after one slip.
Xin Yue: Whether it was a loss or gain, didn't I still find you again in the end?
Wei Wuji: I missed by a hairsbreadth, but it makes a thousand miles of difference. [Chinese proverb] But don't worry. Even in war, there are times when mistakes are made. But as long as they are corrected in time and we proceed in the right direction with speed and stealth, anything can be taken back. Understand my meaning?

(Ok, it sounds a lot cooler in Chinese. I mixed the subtitles with my own interpretation, and sadly my skills as a translator are below substandard even when I think the subtitles are inadequate too. But I think I got the meaning across.)

According to Eddie Peng, the actor in Wuji's role, Wei Wuji is “extremely manly” – the type that will proclaim, 'This is my woman, and if you can’t take care of her, then I’ll do it.'" Ahem.Wow, that sounds a lot like Edward Cullen which does not bring back any pleasant associations, but I have to admit that's a pretty accurate description. But at the same time it's kind of not. His personality definitely borders on tyrannical, but the reason why he spends a nearly unbelievable amount of effort trying to win Xin Yue's heart in the first place is because love and respect has to be earned. I think Wei Wuji falls in love with Xin Yue in part because he feels that she's someone he can trust. Imagine if you will being raised in an environment rife with political intrigue, and the people in your own family are constantly vying and competing for influence. Being disillusioned by it all, Wuji has learned to insulate himself as an individual, although he's still devoted to his family. But he needs a partner, someone he can respect and interact with him on equal terms. Then he finds Xin Yue--a girl who doesn't really give a shit about him, that is, the exterior he's groomed for everyone else, but seems to appreciate his personality, and recognize his accomplishments without letting it define her perception of him. She's not in love with him, but she knows that he's talented, charming, trustworthy, self-confident, honorable, and fun to be around. And at Wei Wuji's young age when he views everything as a practically all-or-nothing serious commitment--having succeeded in life as much as he has through that attitude--of course he's going to pursue Xin Yue as intensely as he does. He's not just pursuing her, he's pursuing an entire future with her. So while Wuji's "Prince-Charming-with-a-swaggering-attitude" personality certainly captivated me and is probably the most entertaining aspect of the show, I think there's a lot more to Wuji than that.

Is the relationship totally equal though? Not entirely. Love triangles with one woman and two men have an annoying trend of having either guy dominate the relationship occasionally. The kidnapping scene after Xin Yue runs away from all her friends in episode 16 certainly speaks to that. On one hand, the context does justify it a little, because in principle running away from your friends without telling them is a selfish thing to do. Plus Wuji is definitely the kind of person to take control of his destiny even if it means temporarily throwing aside his usual respect for the woman he loves, so the incident is completely in character. Also, it's tempered quite a bit with some emotional vulnerability, because it turns out later he was genuinely scared out of his wits that he was going to lose her, and we're led to think maybe he wouldn't be quite so suave and composed if he had found out too late that Xin Yue had run away. The show also makes it very clear that it's not Wuji's kidnapping Xin Yue that eventually makes her fall in love with him, it's that they learn to trust one another. But on the other hand, kidnappings portrayed as romantic is a trope that absolutely drives me up the wall. It is a far, far too common occurrence in Chinese drama and while it's not exactly the kidnapping I object to, the fact that we're constantly invited to swoon over it is extremely annoying and needs to be put to death. The scene with Wuji slinging Xin Yue over his shoulder and making off with her on his horse with music swelling all over the background--no. Just stop. Just stop.

Wow, that turned into a rant pretty fast. My point is, Sound of the Desert has a fairly average concept with a few irritating tropes, but one that's creatively plotted and well told. Jiu Ye is quite an interesting character too--not nearly as charismatic and charming as Wuji, but there's a very definite contrast in the attitudes of the two characters regarding what they want in life, including romantic love. Wuji constantly feels the need to chase after the moment and pursues Xin Yue to the point of being almost tyrannical, while Jiu Ye is doggedly resigned to a life of loneliness and keeps rejecting Xin Yue's advances because he thinks it'll never work out. Not surprisingly that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Wuji doesn't hesitate to sneer at him for it. Which does inspire some conflicting feelings in me as the audience, because I root for Wuji all the way but Jiu Ye's story has a somewhat tragic element to it, that of a person who's already made up his mind about life and only realizes how detrimental that is when the opportunity has passed.

Well, this review is getting far too long and if I don't stop now I'll probably have no characters left to review the book when I finally read it. (Is there a limit here on Booklikes?) I'm fairly sure that the story in both the adaptation and book is nearly identical though--so more on the story once I'm done with the original novel.