Two households, both alike in dignity,
In 1920s Shanghai, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
There is little that intrigues me more than the idea of retellings. Many say that it is our ability to tell stories that makes us human; I have to wonder whether the stories that withstand the test of time and remain in our collective consciousness as we tell them over and over again reveal the something deeper about our humanity. It is fascinating to see what elements of an original story call out to an author and allow them to craft something altogether new. Think of it as pouring old wine into new bottles!
Romeo and Juliet is one of those stories that has existed for so long that even without having read it, most would be able to tell you what it’s about. It is also one of those stories that has been told and retold to no end. In many of these iterations, the romance becomes (or remains?) the main focus. Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights draws the reader in with the promise of Shakespearian star-crossed lovers, only to switch the lens and subvert expectations and offer a complex story full of twists and turns in a manner that I am confident would make Shakespeare himself proud.
For what is Rome and Juliet, if not one of the greatest tragedies?
These Violent Delights keeps our star-crossed lovers, but it also makes its setting come to life in such a manner that Shanghai is just as big of a protagonist to the story as Roma and Juliette. What Gong aims to explores above all is the idea of whether people can choose love in a world that has been carved out of hatred and violence and shown that anything but that is a liability. Verona does indeed seem fair and peaceful in comparison to our Shanghai, where the streets are shaken by more than rival gangs – nationalists, communists and imperialists all fight for control over the city (and Gong dives deeper into this in our sequel, Our Violent Ends).
I might be biased in my love for this duology, as it very much feel tailored to my particular taste, yet I cannot help but want to scream about my love for it to the heaves hoping everything would pick it up…