It’s a new year and new beginnings, so how about, a new novel translation? With Really, Really Miss You winding down to its final few chapters, it’s time to announce my next project — One Life, One Incarnation: Beautiful Bones, by Mo Bao Fei Bao (author of Really Really Miss You). When Toupai and Sheng Sheng’s story is complete, this one will take over that posting slot.
I’ll give you a (mainly) spoiler-free introduction and review of the novel first. Further down, you’ll get a translation of the short prologue as a little teaser.
One of the reasons why I am a huge fan of MBFB is because of her writing versatility. I deliberately chose this story because it is a completely different sort of novel from RRMY. I would use cute, sweet, and fun to describe RRMY whereas I would use beautiful, touching, and poignant to describe Beautiful Bones. On top of a beautiful love story, there is mystery and suspense.
You can read my translation of the official novel synopsis on SSB and further down in the comments, I have written a more detailed summary. (Be forewarned that if you read down through my summary and the comments, there are spoilers riddled everywhere.)
“Beautiful bones. Rare in this world.
Those with bone do not have skin. Those with skin do not have bone.
Most people’s eyes are shallow, seeing only the skin-deep appearance and not the ‘bones,’ the appearance of the inside.”
The “bones” and “skin” are metaphorical and taken from an ancient text in which these actually are referring to inner and outer beauty, respectively. Most people are shallow and only see outward beauty and fail to acknowledge inner beauty.
The female lead, Shi Yi has memories of her past life in which her heart belonged to Zhousheng Chen. That life ended in tragedy for them, and in this life, her only goal and desire is to find him again… and one day, she does. He does not look the same, but she knows that beneath the outer appearance, it is him. He, however, does not remember her.
Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote on SSB:
In this life, Shi Yi, an ordinary person with an ordinary life, has found him again. Not wanting to lose him again, she hastily barges into his life, not hiding her interest/attraction to him. Zhousheng Chen never shows any signs of reciprocating her interest until one day, an unexpected phone call from him says, for personal reasons, he needs to get engaged and asks if she will be his fiancee. When she agrees to it and they start building a deeper relationship, Shi Yi realizes there is much more to Zhousheng Chen than what she knew.
Shi Yi is very different from Gu Sheng. She knows exactly what she wants — to find and not lose Zhousheng Chen again — and is not shy about it. She is not innocent about the ugly realities of life. After all, how can she be when she remembers pain of the past life? But that sets her firm on what she values.
Zhousheng Chen is the show stealer. He is a “nerdy” professor and has a very forgettable outer appearance (that’s right, you do not have a handsome male lead), but this guy oozes presences. He will captivate you! I have read a huge number of c-novels and to me, he still has the most presence out of all the male leads I’ve read about. He is gentlemanly and warm, yet commanding, down to his minute gestures, and when he chooses to love a woman, his attention to every small detail can make the girl feel like the most blessed person in the world. His family background is not what you would expect, though, and is deeply rooted in the dirty and dangerous underground society.
Hoju’s solemn promise: This novel is more serious than RRMY but is not heavy. There are moments of heartbreak, but no angst in the relationship. There are no third parties to spoil a beautiful, touching love story. Have patience because it is a very (very, very, very) slowly developed romance, but the details will warm your heart. And it is a happy ending!
Actually, I sometimes think I’m insane for choosing this as my next translation project. I started out my translation hobby by working on the works of more “classic” wuxia authors, and I can honestly say that translating Jin Yong does not intimidate me as much as translating this novel. I said before on SSB: Because of the references to the past life, there is a lot of ancient style writing woven into the story. There is so much poetry, calligraphy, etc in this novel that lots of the novel has an ancient feel, despite being set in current day China. In fact, it feels more ancient than some ancient novels I’ve read. (Haha, I guess I’ve gone the polar opposite from RRMY’s very modern, slang and online culture.)
Coupled with that is MBFB’s beautiful writing for this novel. I cannot describe it, except that when I read the novel, there is an atmosphere that I sense. It’s like I am watching scenes that are continuously shrouded in fog. Sometimes, that fog is like a gentle mist, creating a beautiful, romantic ambiance for a developing love between our leads. Other times, the fog is like a haze, obscuring the vision slightly but creating a dream-like atmosphere, like when we are flashed back occasionally to their past lives. And at times, that fog is like thick dark smoke, muddling your senses and creating an eerie atmosphere, like when we are given a glimpse of Zhousheng Chen’s family and what they do.
I am neither an English major nor a Chinese major. In fact, I went the sciences route!! Hence, my request to the readers is, I will be using your comments and feedback to judge how well I’m doing. Let me know what you’re feeling about characters, plot, atmosphere. While I know everyone has different interpretations of a story, I am trying my best to maintain author intent and “feel” in the novel.
Lastly, I just wanted to say, SSB was discovered by MBFB’s book fan club on Weibo, and the name “Beautiful Bones” was criticized for being too literal. Let me go on the record now and explain this. The name of the novel is 一生一世美人骨. The last three characters, 美人骨 are what I have translated as Beautiful Bones. Literally, it means, “the bones of a beauty” while technically, what it is really representing is “the inner character (i.e. ‘bones’) of one who possesses true beauty”. As you can see, then, “Beautiful Bones” was my nice compromise, so long as you all understand it is metaphorical.
And with that last note, onto the novel translation……
Prologue – Half a Lifetime Spent Drifting in a Dream
Shi Yi leaned against the window, looking out beyond the car window at the street signs that were speeding by. She could not help giving a heartfelt sigh over the good weather. There was not even a trace of a cloud in the azure sky, so even one’s mood was pleasant because of this. The taxi cab’s whole journey had been flowing and unimpeded, and even after she was out of the car, her check-in procedure was smooth. However, inside security, both times she passed through the metal detector, the alarm had sounded loudly.
The most frustrating part was, the alarm over in the other security line next to her was blaring incessantly as well. She wondered who was having the same wretched luck as her and had encountered an unreasonable metal detector. “Miss, would you mind taking off your shoes. We need to check again.” She nodded and sat down on one of the chairs off to the side. As she was lowering her head to remove her shoes, she saw the backside view of the man in the adjacent security checkpoint.
Very tall, his back very straight. When she noticed him, he was picking up his laptop computer.
On the other end of the security checkpoint, the long queue wound back like dragon.
And on this end, it was only the two of them being inspected.
“Mr. Zhousheng Chen?” The man guarding the security checkpoint was holding the passport he had left behind. “You forgot your passport.”
“Thank you.” He turned around.
Sensing her gaze on him, he lifted his eyes to look over at her.
That instant of eye contact seemed to suppress all the chaos and noise surrounding them. Nothing else concerned her anymore. Shi Yi stared deeply at him, unable to move her gaze away. She wanted to laugh and at the same time, wanted to cry, but either way, she could not speak, not even half a word.
He had come after all.
Zhousheng Chen, you have come after all.