Chloe Gong is the debut author of These Violent Delights, an imaginative take on Romeo and Juliet. This inspired retelling is set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.
We are truly so excited about this book – from the 1920s setting to the historical strife in Shanghai, Chloe has created a masterful retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Not to mention, we fully endorse her pick for the best Romeo and Juliet film ever made. Read on for all the juicy details from the author!
Order Chloe Gong’s book, These Violent Delights, available now, and tag @shereadsdotcom in your pictures. We can’t wait to hear if you love it as much as we did!
Q: Of all the retellings, what drew you to Romeo and Juliet and what made Shanghai the perfect backdrop?
I adored Shakespeare when I was first introduced to his plays in high school, and it was his use of language that I was particularly obsessed with. When I got the idea for These Violent Delights—which was freshman year of college, long after I wrote all those high school essays on Shakespeare—I kept thinking back to the beauty of his plays, and how I wanted my writing to evoke the same sort of feeling. One thing led to another when I decided that a blood feud would be at the center of the story, and then the undeniable urge to reimagine Romeo and Juliet with a whole new cultural lens took root!
Shanghai is just one of my favorite cities given its complicated history and its gorgeous aesthetic, and because I have cultural ties to it, I wanted the challenge of representing it through my story and connecting with readers who have the same cultural background.
Q: What drew you to the 1920s era of Shanghai history versus another time period?
Initially, I wanted to write something set in the 1920s, regardless of where in the world exactly. It’s one of my favorite eras to read about because of the Roaring 20s aesthetic, but I had noticed an absence of books that not only had the cool setting but also addressed the racial and colonial tensions at this time. The 1920s was a time of societal tension worldwide, so where was it in literature?
When I leaned toward exploring the 1920s in Shanghai particularly, it was still that angle I wanted to use. Shanghai in this decade was a place overtaken by foreign influence, but it was benefitting heavily from the intrusion. It was grappling with the rise of its domestic political parties all while trying to combat the British and the French who essentially had legal jurisdiction over huge parts of the city. This societal upheaval came hand-in-hand with the glittering cabarets, smoky nightlife, and gangsters running amok, and I was so interested in exploring how they existed in tandem, and what it would feel like to live in such a tumultuous era.
Q: What’s one of the liberties or reinventions you took with the traditional Shakespearean storyline that you’re most excited about sharing?
Without creeping into spoiler territory, one of the liberties I’m most excited for Shakespeare lovers to encounter is how the original play is re-interpreted in this book. There are some events in Romeo and Juliet that generally are taken for truth, like Tybalt stabbing Mercutio, like Romeo killing Tybalt, like Romeo and Juliet dying at the end.
What I can promise is that the way I interpret a lot of major events are true to the directions given in the play, but not necessarily true to what people have come to take for truth now.
Does that sound really cryptic? It probably sounds super cryptic, but I promise it will make sense once readers finish These Violent Delights! Less cryptically, I’m also really excited for readers to spot the lines directly from the play which I’ve inserted into the book, but reinvented to suit a whole new context.
Q: We have to know … what Romeo and Juliet movie version is your favorite?!
The Baz Luhrmann version, without question. The aesthetics? The way that it’s reimagined by keeping most of the lines true but in a new setting? The blood feud through two rival gangs? Leonardo DiCaprio? It’s truly top-tier art and I love it so much.
Q: Were there any other title phrases, besides “These Violent Delights” you considered for your debut novel?
Surprisingly not! These Violent Delights has been These Violent Delights from the very beginning. Shakespeare had already done the heavy lifting, so in deciding to do a Romeo and Juliet retelling, I zeroed in on the most iconic line and plucked the title from there!
Q: Can you share a few of the Romeo and Juliet retellings you admire?
My number one favorite Romeo and Juliet retelling is Magnolia by Kristi Cook. It’s about two families who have been the best of friends for generations, and they’ve been dying to unite their clans by marriage, so when Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden are born around the same time it seems perfect… except they hate each other. I love how in retelling Shakespeare through YA contemporary instead, this story flips the two families to love each other instead of hate each other, and Jemma and Ryder’s eventual hate-to-love story is so cute. I also love Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, which is another loose YA contemporary retelling!
Watch for more interviews and exciting content from our guest editor, Chloe Gong, all month.