John says ...

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 May, 2010, 12:00am

The emotional impact of Heidi's lovely story doesn't come from the details of what her characters actually do. Instead, it comes from the poetic way she takes us inside the heart of the tragic Xie Mingyuan, and lets us feel what he feels.

And how does she achieve this effect? Heidi could have told us directly about Xie's personality and emotions. She could have told us he was deeply in love with his fianc?e, and that his fianc?e had brought beauty into his life to replace the brutality of war.

Instead, Heidi shows us all this through her description of Xie's actions, and through her use of allegory. An allegory uses one thing to symbolise another, and, in Ransom My Soul, butterflies are used beautifully to represent love.

Xie's memories of his fianc?e, and his discovery of the love letter from the enemy he has just killed, are both closely linked to butterflies. When he returns home as the head of his victorious army, thinking he's going to be married, the flag is 'fluttering', just like a butterfly's wings.

Heidi also creates a powerful effect through her use of contrast - the way she puts two very different things next to each other in her story.

So, Xie thinks of love while he's planning for war. He crushes an ant before tenderly remembering time spent with his fiancee. And, throughout the delicate life of a butterfly exists alongside the ruthless brutality of war.

But at the end of the story, there is the most terrible contrast of all. While Xie is still a soldier - with a military man's cold, clear sense of duty - he's also now a heartbroken man, longing for the woman he loves.

I'm not at all sure I can improve on a story that already works so well. But hopefully Heidi won't mind too much if we see whether a few changes could make some of its strengths even stronger.