Magazine article World Literature Today

Frontier

Magazine article World Literature Today

Frontier

Article excerpt

Can Xue. Frontier. Trans. Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping. Rochester, New York. Open Letter. 2017. 470 pages.

Frontier, first published in China in 2008, is Can Xue's follow-up to her novel The Last Lover, winner of the 2015 Best Translated Book Award. She was also nominated for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Can Xue's writing has been described as avant-garde, experimental, and even bizarre; the fantasy and magical-realist elements make Frontier an additional cutting-edge narrative in her growing body of work.

The setting of Frontier is a surreal place called Pebble Town where snow leopards and wolves roam the streets and a strange mix of mysterious characters live. Every member of Pebble Town has a different reason for coming to the town. Many of its residents appear to have gravitated toward this town as they were looking for a place to fit in; there are several characters in the story who are orphans and, after wandering for a while, have settled in this town on the frontier.

The exact location of Pebble Town is never given; it is vaguely situated at the base of Snow Mountain, near a river, with one main street and a grove of poplars. There is a strange abundance of animals in Pebble Town that are constantly present in the narrative. Geckos, frogs, various types of birds and cats all wander in and out of Pebble Town. At times the landscape seems pastoral as one of the neighbors raises sheep in his front yard. There is a certain randomness and lack of order in Pebble Town that one would expect to find in a place that is located on a frontier. …

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