Jung Eun-gwol, the author of 해를 품은 달 and 성균관 유생들의 나날, sure knows how to craft a story that pierces one’s heart. I don’t think I ever fully recovered from Sungkyunkwan Scandal, which is why I think I was so fervently anticipating The Moon That Embraces the Sun ages before they even started casting. I was dying to get my hands on the book, too, which Jeannie so kindly sent for me from Korea!
The drama deviates quite a bit from the novel, but both of them have their own charm so I will forgive this otherwise heinous crime this one time. Heh. The drama also had an incredible cast of child actors for the first six episodes; and currently, Kim Soohyun is stealing the screen, blazing as the young, bitter king whose heart longs for the girl he loved as a boy.
The drama is garnering shockingly high ratings week after week; whether that’s to be attributed to the pure genius that was Tree With Deep Roots or the Joseon crack that was The Princess’s Man or perhaps the popularity of the novel itself, it’s hard to tell. For me, however, the magic is more in the novel than the drama.
The novel takes place during the Joseon dynasty, so there is quite a bit of figurative language and historical words that I’m not familiar with (and also a lot of words that I just don’t know in general; unsurprising, considering the fact that I’m attempting to read a historical novel barely two years into learning the language). The incredible thing is I can understand most of the plot despite my extremely limited vocabulary and, while I’m at it, I’m gaining such an appreciation for the beauty of “old” Korean.
Personally, I find contemporary Korean more poetic than English and speech during the Joseon era, especially royal speech, even more so. Unsurprisingly, this novel is filled with absolutely gorgeous language. Metaphors and motifs galore and, my personal favorite, parallel structure, which is just as pleasing to read in Korean as English. I plowed my way through book 1 and I’m halfway through book 2, but at this point, I’m reading more for the language than the plot. In terms of the plot itself, well, I will suppress my inner literature bitch. It’s little more than Joseon flavored cotton candy fluff but it’s addicting and definitely worth reading for the language.
Mom and I were talking a few days ago about reading in different languages. My mom’s trilingual in English, Marathi, and Tamil. She grew up reading novels with ease in both English and Tamil. I asked her if she ever had a weird out-of-body feeling when she was reading in either language because I experienced that several times while reading 해를 품은 달. I’d be sucked into the story for several minutes and then I’d stop and marvel at the fact that this story is written entirely in a language that was unknown to me for 20+ years. And I was understanding it. Not only was I understanding it, I was having a visceral reaction to it. For the first time since I started learning Korean, I was doing more than just comprehending. I cried during the sad scenes, blushed during the romantic scenes, bit my nails when things were getting intense. I always thought that no matter how long I study Korean, I would never be able to shake off that element of “foreignness.” But the fact that I’m getting to the point where I can react to a story written in Korean the same as I do when it’s in English is yet another indication that I can be comfortable enough in a “foreign” language to the extent that it doesn’t feel “foreign” any more. Amazing!
Mom said she never felt like that when she switched between reading in different languages, probably because she grew up learning all three at the same time. Sometimes I wish I had grown up knowing multiple languages just as well as I know English, but then I guess I would miss out on experiencing a transition like this!