Border Town is a languid, beautiful, and painfully sad book, moving inexorably towards a conclusion that the reader can see miles away, forcing the reader to desperately pray to be wrong. But you weren’t wrong, you were right. A small blessing is that maybe, even the worst case scenario for the life that proceeds in the fictional world of the book, after the last page, might not be so bad.
Cuicui’s parents killed themselves because they couldn’t see a way to be together, so the girl is raised by her grandfather, the ferryman who takes passengers back and forth over the river to the titular border town.
She and her grandfather are happy, she starts to grow up and the two sons of the the town’s most prominent family notice her and each wants to marry her.
There are confusions and one of the sons dies, but mostly, I was crushed because the grandfather didn’t know how to properly explain about love and marriage and men and women and Cuicui never properly understood the stakes and advantages (two handsome, honorable scions of a wealthy family want to marry a poor girl!), so she never makes a choice.
The book is a sort of anti-Golden Lotus. The prominent citizen, the equivalent to Ximen Qing, is good and honest. The equivalent to Ximen’s most sycophantic hanger-on is, in Border Town, an honest man who makes a beautiful sacrifice to help a friend and community member.
I finished it a couple of days ago and I’m still sad, which the best thing I can say about it.