Book Review: One Life, One Incarnation – Beautiful Bones by Mo Bao Fei Bao

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 are actually 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.

I’m not much into reading translated fiction not because I don’t like it but probably coz they aren’t the popular ones any day and I don’t go actively seeking them out. But it has been really fun reading fan translations of Chinese web novels whose drama adaptations I am loving. With the exception of Qi Ye, I have only read the books in the middle of my binge watch or after finishing the drama. But in this case, I was very intrigued by the premise of both the shows One and Only, and Forever and Ever and decided that I would love to read the book first before I start watching. And I’m so glad I did.

The first thing I have to say is that the writing in this book is beautiful. This is kinda ironic because I’m reading a translation and I don’t know Chinese but the translator does an amazing job giving us detailed footnotes, her English translation is equally lovely and her notes on the author’s writing style is very detailed and impressive. I just felt the writing to be very lyrical and poetic and very metaphorical at times. There are two particular scenes which are captured in my mind – one describing an act of painting and the other describing an act of making tea – they are so exquisitely written that I could see them happening right in front of my eyes. We have also a little part of the story set in ancient times and due to the nature of the plot, the author liberally uses literary and poetic references, mentions many famous poets and calligraphers of ancient China, and describes the past story with a melancholic and dreamy tone – which makes for a very unique and mesmerizing reading experience. There is also a mystery element to the story and the whole ancient traditional mafia family vibe took me by surprise.

I’m having a hard time describing the main character Shi Yi. So much of her personality in the present timeline is shaped by the memories of her past life and there are many moments where she seems out of place. But it also makes her single minded devotion towards Zhousheng Chen feel realistic because in any other book, she would come across as naive and a pushover. Her trust in him is complete and it’s nice to see her love succeed this time and be reciprocated in the way she deserves. The Shi Yi of the past, or Eleven is a much more sheltered and innocent child whose love for her teacher is shaped by his righteousness and loyalty towards his people, and the utmost care he shows towards her because that is the only kind of love permitted between them.

We only get to see the Zhousheng Chen of the past through her eyes which does make him seem like the best person to exist and his presence is just very towering, but it is also undeniable that he dedicated his life for his country without expecting much in return. The Zhousheng Chen of the current time is very different in many ways but also the same where it counts – “beautiful bones” as Shi Yi calls it – he is aloof and mysterious and basically a geeky scientist who doesn’t know socializing much, but is also very thoughtful about the greater good and wants to do something to help the people and the country.

Their romance is also pretty unique. Firstly, it takes time for us to be sure that Shi Yi is actually in love with the present Zhousheng Chen and not just the him from her memories, but her utter love and belief in him is something we wish we could ever feel for someone. Zhousheng Chen on the other hand takes time to get to know her and works to show her how he feels. I always see this line that “love takes hard work” but this maybe the first time I saw that in action in the way he worked to learn to love her the way she deserves and appreciate her for the kind of person she is and the trust she has in him. It’s technically a slow burn romance and is definitely very time taking on his side, but I also can’t deny that her love is always overflowing through the author’s words.

There are also quite a few characters whom I enjoyed even though we don’t really get to explore their relationships with the main characters deeply. But Shi Yi’s childhood best friend Hong Xiaoyu was such a fun presence and it was nice to see how much she cared for Shi Yi. Zhousheng Chen’s young cousin Xiao Ren was sweet and loving, and very supportive of Shi Yi which I thought was refreshing in their family full of mysterious people. Zhousheng Chen’s best friend Mei Xing was also another interesting personality who I thought could have been a great friend to Shi Yi in other circumstances. There are a few characters other than our MCs who are also reincarnated versions of their ancient selves but I don’t wanna spoil who they are because it was a surprise, but also equally heartbreaking.

To conclude, this was really a very engaging and mesmerizing story. I usually take a while to read translations on blogs but I couldn’t put this one down until I finished it in a day. I don’t think I’ve read a reincarnation story before so this felt unique and interesting and very very lovely. However, the past life storyline is truly tragic and now I’m not sure if I even want to watch One and Only. I’ll probably just enjoy the present love story in Forever and Ever which just started a couple of weeks ago and while it’s quite slow going, I hope it’ll live up to my love of the book.

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