Book: Border Town

First book of 2014. Yay!

I picked up this book on a whim at the library, firstly because it was short and also written by a Chinese author (Shen Congwen). I thought it would be interesting to read a few more Chinese books this year, just to get a better picture of what Chinese literature is all about. I’ve delved into the classics like Journey to the West, Water Margin, Dream of the Red Chamber and Romance of the Three Kingdoms (the big 4). They were probably required readings back in school. I was also really into the martial arts series by Jin Yong. It brings back a lot of good memories. However with regards to more ‘modern’ fiction, I have not been exposed to much. So, since the synopsis sounded interesting I borrowed it.


The beginning was really good. I loved the descriptions that set scene for this novel. It’s beautiful beyond my imagination. It helps greatly to have been to China and seen similar scenery.

Miracles could be discovered everywhere. The boldness, the exquisiteness of nature, at every place and every time, led one inescapably into rapture.

The festival scenes were also full of atmosphere and excitement that it really felt like I had been transported there. There’s an innocence and sweetness to how Cui Cui the main character meets the person she falls in love with.

And yet, everything changes with time. This family’s quiet and ordinary life, as days and went in succession, saw the peace in its human affairs completely broken.

The Chinese culture definitely shines through in this novel. It’s painfully familiar and just a touch annoying. As the story progresses, it moves into this strange place where all the characters seem to be at an impasse. All this due to two things. Firstly Cui Cui cannot for the life of her tell anyone whom she prefers of her two suitors. Secondly her doting grandfather has meddled a little too much into her affairs with regards to her marriage.

This is not an uncommon scenario. It’s used time and time again in all sorts of media, from books to television series. Believe me when I say it gets old really quickly. If everyone just managed to speak their minds, the story could have actually ended in a satisfying way. Instead there is so much drama and waiting and all sorts of ridiculous situations. Quite frankly I hated the ending and was expecting so much more.

What started as a wonderful story about a girl falling in love in a picturesque village turned into something quite unhappy. It’s not that I needed a happy ending, it just felt so melodramatic and incomplete. I really don’t see how this was ‘a moving testament to the human spirit’.

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