reading list was 邊城 Border Town, by 沈從文 Shěn Cóngwén. This slender volume, occupying only seventy or so pages at 16 point Chinese type on my tablet, was the shortest of the four I read, by a substantial margin, and by the time I got to it, I had advanced sufficiently in my literacy that I was able to read through this book in about two weeks.
Central to the story are an old boatman, who ferries travellers both ways across a river, where the old pagoda he lives in sits, along with his daughter and his dog. The action, such as there is, concerns a love triangle between the girl and two brothers of a wealthier businessmen from the nearby city, but even when the foreground is occupied by the youngsters, lurking in the background, everpresent, is the old man, as constant as the river and the boat he directs from bank to bank. Meanwhile, the old ways—represented by the time-honored fashion in which the boys make their overtures to the boatman's daughter—are fighting their battle against the intrusion of the modern world, with occasionally tragic casualties.
Border Town is a story of responsibility, and virtue, and the results of their collisions with chance and fate. Told in its own unobtrusive way, it worms its way into your consciousness and without realizing it, you find yourself wondering how you would act, thrust into a different world, at a different time.