Herein I speak of author’s writing approach. I simply love it. Postmodernist critics vociferously attack Rankean methodology of letting sources speak for themselves. Likewise, they pinpoint that the text(books) are also stories. Hence, certain facts may be accidentally or willfully omitted.
So the response is via 陈 – Chen. Historical novelists similar to him include Leo Tolstoy, who was once a journalist and did his own research. Through novelisation, we get to humanise the dead or get into the shoes of those who are still living. Where the facts are not certain, any speculation must be clearly stated. In this way, we go through the thought processes and feel.
More than once I have marvelled at their works – their poetic language and the subtle but brilliant communication of the situation.
The other aspect which I appreciate is the grand narrative structure. Korea’s history was intertwined with Vietnam in that period. Why? Both were tributaries. France looking at the Mekong River to enter the Chinese market was hoping that Qing dynasty’s expenditure would make it easier for them to annex Vietnam. In this way, we come to understand that things can be so complex.
Nevertheless, it may seem long winded at times. It is similar in style to another Japanese historical novel, 忍者之国 by 和田龙. You would get spoilers where the long term fates of characters are discussed. Historical character A for example would die by a certain age (sometime in the future) after doing such and such, then the narration would get back to the main plot.
In any case, read and listen more below of the importance of literature (and history):
Doris Lessing. (1987). Prisons We choose to live Inside. Harper & Row. (available from libraries under the National Library Board, Singapore).
The 1985 CBC Massey Lectures, “Prisons We choose to live Inside” http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/massey-archives/1985/11/07/massey-lectures-1985-prisons-we-choose-to-live-inside/.