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Border Town: A Novel Paperback – Sep 1 2009
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From the Back Cover
First published in 1934, Border Town brings to life the story of Cuicui, a young country girl coming of age during a time of national turmoil. Like any teenager, Cuicui dreams of romance and finding true love. She's spellbound by the local custom of nighttime serenades, and she is deftly pursued by two eligible brothers. But Cuicui is also haunted by the imminent death of her grandfather, a poor and honorable ferryman who is her only family. As she grows up, Cuicui discovers that life is full of the unexpected and that she alone will make the choices that determine her destiny.
A moving testament to the human spirit, Border Town is a beautifully written novel, considered Shen Congwen's masterpiece for its brilliant portrayal of Chinese rural life before the Communist revolution.
About the Author
Shen Congwen (1902-1988) is one of the most influential writers in China's modern history. His novel Border Town was banned under Mao's regime, only to become an inspiration to a new generation of Chinese writers in the late twentieth century.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This new translation by Jeffrey C. Kinkley is a masterpiece. This book was originally written in the time before the Communists took over China. Congwen suffered a breakdown during the communist revolution and never published another work of fiction. This story is a glimpse into the beauty of a countryside so rich in history. The storytelling is wonderful.
This is a coming of age story set in rural China. The main character is a young girl named Cuicui. It's hard to discuss the plot (which includes a tragic turn for a family member-- I don't even want to say which one) without giving away much of the story. I hate "spoiler reviews". I don't want to make it impossible to enjoy the book, so I'll just say that this is a classic of fine Chinese literature.
That really should be enough. Don't miss this modern translation.
Recommended, without any reservations.
Cuicui, aged 13 to 15 through the course of the story, dreams of romance while dreading the negative consequence of marriage: leaving her beloved, aging grandfather. Meanwhile she is courted by two brothers from the nearby town, one through a match-maker, the other by means of the Szechuanese tradition of love song serenades. In her innocence, Cuicui both deliberately and unintentionally ignores the brothers' advances.
The author depicts a beautiful and idyllic landscape as an almost cinematic backdrop for the reserved, taciturn relations between his characters. He employs short bursts of emotional dialogue, then pulls away to focus on the minutiae of rural life--the steel striker used to light a pipe, the feel of silk crepe turban cloth, jars of tung oil and bamboo tubes filled with wine--in the way that a bashful girl turns her head aside out of modesty.
Chen packs concentrated bursts of emotion into scenes throughout the novel, telling a heart-grabbing story of life by the river. It's a gorgeous book, considered a masterpiece of modern Chinese writing, for which the author was to have been awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature had he not died just before the official announcement.
The translation is beautifully written. Strongly recommended.
My criticism is Shen sometimes seems to feel a little too 'sympathetic' toward his characters and their way of life (matched perhaps only by his repugnance of the Communists' exploitation thereof) that Border Town borders on utopia, turning more into nostalgic parable than doing the reality of these people full justice. I feel at times a small, moralizing, apophatically polemic voice through the text's background pulls the author down from arriving at a true, elevated and wide vantage. I didn't like the implicit allusion to the fall of Eden either, or the 'plot' of the love triangle, which feels forced.
The publishers' book descriptions are banal as usual, and the unfortunate blab on the cover placing Shen Congwen and Pearl S Buck in the same sentence (like comparing Henry Miller to EL James) tries to make a dumb and racist appeal to Westerners longing for the exotic that safely conforms to their stereotype of China the Beautiful (perpetuated not only by Westerners but also by Chinese themselves trying to pander to those audiences). However, despite these flaws, I recommend Border Town as essential for anyone interested in modern Chinese writing. I would recommend more heartily Shen Congwen's autobiography for those who read Chinese.