Monday, February 26, 2007

The Dagger

by Yang Pei-chin

I found this one tucked in the corner of the campus English library. It's an English book, published by the Foreign Language Press in Beijing in 1978. It's a war story, set in Korea in 1953. The bad guys, of course, are the American Imperialists and their puppets, the army of Syngman Rhee. The heroes are the brave and noble Chinese People's Volunteers and the Korean People's Army. I was curious to read a story in which my people were the bad guys. So how did it read? Not too bad, surprisingly. It's only waiting room material, but so is most of the American military fiction I've read. The Dagger shares many of the same clich├ęs. You have a small band of soldiers from disparate backgrounds, each with a unique skill and temperament. Yet their common mission has bound them together closer than family. The heroes are noble and determined, the villains are brutal and cowardly. The big difference that stood out (other than seeing the letters "USA" assigned to the bad guys) is that in an American tales, the heroes would draw strength from their own ideals and would triumph through their own resources. In this book, there is very much a group mindset as the scouts draw strength from their comrades' example and rely on their leaders' decisions, help and encouragement.

Oh, and reading The Dagger also shed some insight onto the crafting of a good story. There is one moment where the story stops for some philosophical musings. The main character, Liang Han-kuang, takes advantage of a brief lull in the action to work on a political speech he's planning on delivering to his fellow soldiers. As he mulls over what he's going to say, the author takes the chance to hop on his soapbox. It's nothing unique to Chinese fiction--I've read the same from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to John Norman's Gor series. Experiencing this phenomenon once again, I have to say that taking a philosophy break is, in my experience, detrimental to the story. To my recollection, the great books don't preach at you--they get their message across through dialogue and action. Or at least they'll preach the sermon after the main story... kind of like I did here.
No LibraryThing link!

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