From the author of the 2007 Orange Prize finalist A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers comes a wholly original and thoroughly captivating coming-of-age story that follows a bright, impassioned young woman as she rushes headlong into the maelstrom of a rapidly changing Beijing to chase her dreams.
Twenty-one year old Fenfang Wang has traveled one thousand eight hundred miles to seek her fortune in contemporary urban Beijing, and has no desire to return to the drudgery of the sweet potato fields back home. However, Fenfang is ill-prepared for what greets her: a Communist regime that has outworn its welcome, a city under rampant destruction and slap-dash development, and a sexist attitude seemingly more in keeping with her peasant upbringing than the country’s progressive capital. Yet Fenfang is determined to live a modern life. With courage and purpose, she forges ahead, and soon lands a job as a film extra. While playing roles like woman-walking-over-the bridge and waitress-wiping-a-table help her eke out a meager living, Fenfang comes under the spell of two unsuitable young men, keeps her cupboard stocked with UFO noodles, and after mastering the fever and tumult of the city, ultimately finds her true independence in the one place she never expected.
At once wry and moving, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth gives us a clear-eyed glimpse into the precarious and fragile state of China’s new identity and asserts Xiaolu Guo as her generation’s voice of modern China.
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth offers a glimpse into the life of a 20-something Chinese woman trying to survive in the city of Beijing. This is a rather bare statement and does not do justice to what the book truly contains. It’s a peek into the psyche of someone who is just like you and me except she exists in a city, in a country that is alien to what people in North America are used. Fenfang’s voice is wry and cynical and her signature phrase (also incidentally the one that attracted me to the novel initially:
Great Heavenly Bastard in the Sky
is very revealing of her irreverent attitude towards life and the living of it. You always feel a bit removed from Fenfang. The book is told almost entirely in narration and contains very little dialogue and most of it is introverted thoughts and observations. Not something that would normally be interesting but somehow, maybe because it’s pithy and so very involved, I had no trouble empathizing and feeling for Fenfang. I really loved the ending not because it tied up everything so perfectly but because it ended on this irrepressible note of possibility.
This book is a study in contradictions. There is a lot of cynicism in it but it is hope that buoys it and makes it a success. It paints a very convincing picture of a girl trying to survive the life given to her. To not just be a passive passenger in this journey but, excuse my advent into cliches, to make something of herself. I think you will enjoy Xiolu Guo’s interpretation of youth and the hunger that accompanies it