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Border Town by Shen Congwen – Book Review

Border Town is a Chinese novel written by Shen Congwen. The novel depicts the story of a teenage girl named Cuicui in small outskirts of a village. This coming of age novel has been adapted for a Chinese film as well.

About the Author :

Shen Congwen is a Chinese writer formerly romanized as Shen Tsung-wen. The author is best known for his plays about regional culture and identity. He has a greater influence on modern Chinese literature. He uses classical Chinese writing techniques in a vernacular style. Some of his works translated into English are The Chinese Earth, The Border Town, and Other Stories, Imperfect Paradise, and Recollections of West Hunan.

Book Summary :

Border Town depicts the story of Cuicui, a young country girl who aspires to find true love. The story opens in a Chinese rural region during the pre-Communist revolution. It revolves around the 13-year-old Cuicui living with her grandfather in a remote village. After her mother’s death, she becomes dutiful to her old grandfather, helping him in his chores. As a teenager, she is often taken away with thoughts of her age. She is occupied with romantic music and local customs related to nighttime dances.

Cuicui’s grandfather was a ferryman, transporting the townsmen across the crook to the nearby mountain town of Chadong. As the grandfather becomes aware of his old age, he worries about Cuicui’s future. He starts looking for potential suitors to Cuicui. Two eligible men from the same town woo Cuicui. However, Cuicui becomes concerned of the imminent death of her grandfather. She chooses one of her suitors but is unwilling to go with him, leaving her grandfather behind. Even though she loves the younger son and dreams of marrying him, she is less aware of her future life.

Meanwhile, her grandfather chooses one of her suitors, the elder son, as a match for Cuicui. But unfortunately, everything winds up to a tragic end. The elder son dies in an accident and the blame goes on the grandfather. Even the younger son could not marry Cuicui because of the family conflict after his brother’s death. He leaves to another town when Cuicui refuses to accompany him because of her grandfather. But her grandfather dies of cold, leaving Cuicui all alone in the village. With grief, Cuicui continues to live in the village, waiting for the younger son.

The story shows how life’s situation turns a person into independent and mature, only after heart-wrenching struggles. The author shows how one’s life choices can influence their destiny forever.

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