Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
By: Xiaolu Guo
Xiaolu Guo was on my My Author Goals List this year list and I’m so glad I picked this book up. Though it’s a bit of a strange one perhaps. Fenfang has left her small village to make her way in Beijing and we see, well, 20 fragments of that life.
At first I would have said story wise there wasn’t much here and this was a great character piece. Fenfang’s inner life and thoughts are so well done as she struggles in the city and nothing turning out like she thought it would. She gets work as a film extra and then poor decides to start writing screenplays.
Okay, maybe I just related to the struggles.
It does meander a bit. I felt sorry for her at times. Admired her strength and shook my head at some of the decision making. Plus she’s funny and though a couple of things are repeated here and there I will most likely use the phrase “Heavenly Bastard in the Sky,” at some point in the future myself.
So she’s a relatable character yet the stuff about China is different enough (for me) to be intriguing. The neighbors always watching. At one point they report her and she gets picked up and questioned basically about whether or not she’s a “good” girl. The descriptions of the heat and the ever changing-ness of the city especially in contrast to that of her home are so well-done I felt like I was there.
Yet even though I said this wasn’t much of a story in the beginning by the end the fragments do come together and I felt like I got a good feel of the characters life and struggles- though if you wanted something more straightforward and with the flow of a more natural novel maybe don’t start with this one.
My edition had a chapter in the back where the author talked about the struggle to find a translatable voice and making some changes from the original version that she wanted to change anyway. While occasionally, very occasionally, it did feel a little translated what was impressive is the universality of the character comes through.
Anyway I was really pleased to read this one and will definitely be picking up more of Xiaolu Guo’s work in the future.