Spring 1951: it is the fiery zenith of the Korean War, a war that the youthful US Army lieutenant Wesley Palm and his men thought that they had won… until the Chinese swept across the Yalu River.
Traveling with the million-man army bent on driving back the march of “American imperialism” is Jasmine Young, a Chinese surgeon who has volunteered herself into the war for unspoken, grave reasons. Through a chronicle of merciless battles, freezing winters, and the brutality and hypocrisy of human nature, the two will find themselves weaving through the twists and turns of fate and destiny. Though their love is forbidden, their passion and pursuit of liberty cannot be quenched.
Up until reading "Dance of the Spirits", most of my information about the Korean War came from my near-obsession with the tv show M*A*S*H. (Sad, isn't it?) My father did ROTC to help with college finances and spent two years in the Army, but did not see combat.
A lot of the first part of the book was about Jasmine's childhood. She was the legitimate daughter of a well-to-do family. I make that distinction because her father quite often had children with one or the other of his mistresses. Most of them were girls, who were brought into the household (without their biological mothers). When the latest mistress finally produced a son, the boy and his mother were brought into the house, over the strenuous objections of Jasmine's mother, who eventually committed suicide.
Then, Communism swept the country, and a former servant became an officer in the army and the social relations between the classes changed. He had long been attracted to Jasmine, but could now use his status to try and influence her decision. He wanted it; Jasmine's family wanted it. Jasmine...wasn't so sure.
Jasmine was a trained physician/surgeon and decided her best option was to enlist. She did what was possible with ever dwindling medical supplies and ever-increasing numbers of wounded. One of her patients was her family's former servant, who was now a Colonel.
At the beginning, Jasmine and Wesley are on opposite sides of the conflict. He'd probably just as soon shoot her as anything. They have several change meetings and near-meetings almost as if fate is bringing them together (at least in geographical location). At times, Wesley is captured and a prisoner of war. As "Dance of the Spirits" progresses, it is Jasmine's turn to be taken prisoner, where she works as a doctor to the Chinese prisoners.
Both Wesley and Jasmine are multi-dimensional characters. We laugh and cry and get angry right along with them. They help us see that it is never strictly good vs evil, even in the horrors of war. It seems that many great, sweeping novels are set against a backdrop of war, showing us both the best and worst of 'humanity' and the human spirit. "Dance of the Spirits" is one such novel. Aerie's book is a wonderful addition to anyone's bookshelf and a must-read for historical fiction fans.
Catherine Aerie, a graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a master degree in finance, grew up in China as the daughter of a Shanghai architect. She was inspired to write The Dance of the Spirits while researching a family member’s role in the Korean War, deciding to revive an often neglected and overlooked setting in fiction and heighten the universality of resilient pursuit of love and liberty. Her debut novel was finished after about two years of research. She currently resides in southern California.
For more information please visit Catherine Aerie’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads.
INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE AERIE
1. What gave you the idea for "The Dance of the Spirits"?
Assuming the question is asking how I was originally inspired to write the book, it all started off with my original interest in the Korean War itself. Then it became personal when I was researching my family history and discovered that a female relative had participated in the conflict. From there on, the basic foundations of the plot and the characters folded together with each extra thought added into it.
2. What is the best thing about being a writer?
I’d like to say the best thing about being a writer, along with writing in general, can be compared to hiking up a mountain: the journey is begins enthusiastically and excitingly, with an author eager and optimistic about putting their ideas to paper and the greatness that may result. However, as the trail ascends and the terrain grows rougher, one becomes encumbered with the fatigue of research, character development, story progression, and the draining motivation to continue on writing anyways. Through all the temptations to completely abandon the hard climb at several points along the way, an author who finally drove themselves to finish their work can react the same way as a hiker does upon reaching the summit of the mountain; the heartwarming pride of seeing one’s own landscape of dedication and creativity finished before them.
3. What is the hardest thing for you about being a writer.?
To get straight to the point, the most difficult part of being a writer is the imprinted fact that an author will have to multitask in order to both get by the challenges of daily life and remain dedicated to their project(s) at the same time. What spare free time one may have had would have to be sacrificed to write, while an author still has to look over life in the family as usual without change.
4. Who is in your dream cast for a movie based on the book?
That’s rather difficult to fully answer without sounding overconfident or self-centered. I’d personally rather leave it to Hollywood to decide, since readers often form their own personal images of what the characters of a book look like while reading - to have an image preset by the author, even inadvertently, is to, as Stephen King put it in his memoir On Writing: “. . . lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I [the author] want forge between us [the reader(s)]. Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. (pg. 174)”
5. Who are your influences. .. bookish or otherwise?
To state “bookish” influences, I’d have to say that my writing influences stem primarily from the language styles of Pearl S. Buck, Margaret Mitchell, and Ernest Hemingway. Some extra mentions can also go to Dr. Otto F. Apel, whose memoirs of his Korean War service served as a major source for my book, and Max Hastings with his excellent overall history of the conflict.
6. What three places in the world would you most like to visit?
I have yet to set foot on European soil before, so naturally I’d have to say that Paris, St. Petersburg, and Berlin, along with their respective countries, would be on the top of my traveling list.
7. What's on your desk (or in your space) when you write?
Asides from my laptop, about a dozen books that serve as both potential sources and improvised foot rests and as well as two mugs - one for tea and the other for coffee - that are almost always being refilled.
8. How do you think society can foster young (school - aged) writers?
With the powerful influence of the Internet nowadays, young people can share whatever self-made writings with countless others online by pressing buttons and clicking a mouse; the only real challenge, as always with everything in life, is to remain dedicated and loyal to one’s projects while enjoying in the process. From what I’ve seen, the furnace for many great writers of the future consist of online forums such as FanFiction.net, where entire virtual novels of self-made sequels to beloved films exist, and NationStates, with its online role-playing community that revolves around creating fictitious countries and establishing whole histories about them. There’s even a virtual encyclopedia completely dedicated to writing fiction and its various mechanics, TV Tropes, and is home to communities of netizens that write and publish online for a hobby.
All this being said, today’s modern society simply has to let young writers know that there is a place where their ideas can be published and reviewed without worrying at all about investment or profit - it’s online on the Internet and simply has to be found. Not only can they easily show off their works to hundreds across the globe, but can also gain knowledge, advice, and experience from more experienced online writers without even having to meet them in person. As I said before, it’s only a matter of loyalty and dedication to one’s writing, ideas, and projects to make it so.
9. Which writer throughout history including today would you most like to invite to your home for a visit?
To answer that question, I suppose that it would be a very enjoyable evening to have tea with Pearl S. Buck underneath the gazebo in my backyard or being able to toast a glass of wine with Ernest Hemingway.
10. Who was your favorite teacher?
I’d like to award my beloved father for that prestigious award, who always brought me more books to satisfy my hunger for them and took me to see many places in my life.
(Disclosure: I received a print copy of "Dance of the Spirits" from the author and publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my unbiased review. Click the button to see other stops on the tour and enter the giveaway!)