Frontier by Can Xue, translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping [in Booklist]
“It will be interesting what people make of this one,” novelist-essayist Porochista Khakpour (The Last Illusion, 2014) reveals in her introduction, something she admiringly says about every Can Xue (The Last Lover, 2014) title. “Can Xue,” Khakpour explains, is both pseudonymous disguise and “synonymous with Chinese experimental literature.”
Frontier is another enigma, moving readers into Pebble Town, a destination without geographical equivalent, anchored by the Construction Design Institute, a refuge for some, more labyrinth for others. Newly arrived José and Nancy soon give birth to a baby girl, dubbed “Daughter of the Frontier.” Liujin becomes the novel’s central character, and her interactions with townies – including janitor Qiming, hospital worker Haizai, and displaced African native Ying – loosely converge into a narrative about a morphing, reinventing community.
Purists may find translators Gernant and Chen’s decision, albeit with the author’s permission, to anglicize some of the Chinese names disconcerting. Audiences in search of a linear story will find that identifiable time, place, and action aren’t imperative here. What lingers and beckons is a sense of inquisitive disorientation, which proves both unsettling and rewarding.
Published: 2008 (China), 2017 (United States)