The Bell Maiden was inspired by a well-known ancient Chinese tale that has been passed down from generation to generation. It left its mark on me when I first read it as a child.
In my version, the legend is revealed to the daughter of Israel's ambassador to China while they are on their way to Beijing. Connie is far from happy with her father’s new assignment; she is devastated that she must leave her home and friends. As they embark on their flight from Tel Aviv to Beijing, he gives her a gift – a little gong that her deceased mother once brought from China. Connie’s father is hoping that it will give her some insight into the culture of the country to which they are heading. During their flight, the gong indeed reveals this ancient tale, and by the time the plane lands, Connie has been totally engulfed by the plot and has managed to change the fate of the characters for the better.
At the core of the tale is Kuan Yu the bellmaker and his daughter, Kong-ge. Kuan Yu’s skills are so widely admired, that the emperor and empress of China summon him to their court and order him to cast a special bell. They demand that he must make them a bell with a unique sound never yet been heard or else face beheading. Kuan-Yu twice fails to produce such a bell, and the executioner’s sword is already hovering over him when Kong-ge turns to the goddess of fire for help. The bellmaker’s daughter learns that the solution to their predicament demands a very heavy price – the blood of a human. At this point Connie intervenes and creates her own ending to the tale, saving both the bellmaker and his daughter.
The themes of my story revolve around the search for the perfect sound, the source of music, and the price an artist must pay for his integrity. The struggle between the emperor, the empress and the bellmaker emphasize their different worldviews. The emperor is looking to fill the void in his life caused by his inability to feel: "Not a tear can I shed. It’s as if I am dead.” The tyrannical empress wants to combine all the sounds of the world into one. However, the artist – the bellmaker – wants to give voice to the individual, “The world is a place of many lonely voices.”
Father-daughter relations in both worlds are also addressed in this story.
Kong-ge’s question “From whence will such music appear? … Where shall I find the secret of the art?” resonates to this very day from the giant bell in the Bell Tower in Beijing, where Connie and her father, Israel’s new ambassador to China, visit at the end of the story.
In writing this book, I raised my eyes, ears and heart toward a different culture with a magnificent tradition. Although remote from mine, learning about this culture helped me discover myself. I found inspiration in images from Chinese literature and tried to preserve the essence of China's enchantment through my Hebrew verse.
Linda Yechiel's translation beautifully echoes that inspiration.