Xiaolu Guo: A new author, but one who has built up a following and has several titles in print and translated into English. I just finished reading her novel Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth and am eager to procure and read all her other works. Wikipedia writes that Xiaolu Guo:
“… is a British Chinese novelist and filmmaker, who uses cinema and literary language to explore themes of alienation, memory, personal journeys, daily tragedies and develops her own vision of China’s past and its future in a global environment. She is one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary literature in both Chinese and English. Her novels have been translated into more than 26 languages. She is one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013.”
Her novels to date include:
- Lovers in the Age of Indifference (2010)
- UFO in Her Eyes (2009)
- 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth (2008)
- A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers (2007)
- Village of Stone (2003)
- Movie Map (2001)
- Film Notes (2001)
- Fenfang’s 37.2 Degrees (2000)
- Who is my mother’s boyfriend? (1999)
Add to this several movies, either as director, producer, or screenwriter, and Xiaolu Guo is a talented artist to watch out for in the future.
20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth tells the story of Fenfang who escapes from the peasant life of her birth and goes to the big city (Bejing) to make something of herself. In Bejing, Fenfang is able to support herself working in movies, but only the small, non-speaking extra rolls (at one point she is booked as one of the brides in a mass wedding). She also tries her hand at scriptwriting, taking the advice of an American friend who exposes her to the name Tennessee Williams, even though Fenfang is totally unaware of the American playwright other than that he wrote something called A Streetcar Named Desire (she thinks “Desire” is a silly name for a car). As is obvious, Fenfang is very much the fictional alter-ego for the author and reappears in later works.
This novel does two things quite well. First, it is a vivid representation of life in modern China and despite being fiction, is actually quite educational. But add to that the author’s strong ability to notice and depict the small but significant parts of life, whether it is hearing a peasant heading out to work the fields or dealing with the crowds and pollution of Bejing. Having only read the one novel, I can’t be sure there isn’t a turn to more abstract or literary forms, but right now I see a fascinating writer who turns words into intriguing photographs of the inner lives of the modern Chinese. I definitely want more.