Title: Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
Author: Xiaolu Guo
Release Date: August 5, 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
From the dust jacket:
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 undergoing rampant destruction and slapdash development, and a sexist attitude seeminly 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 purpse, she forges ahead – and soon lands a job as a film extra. While playing roles like woman-walking-over-a-bridge and waitress-wiping-a-table helps her eke out a meager living, Fenfang comes under the spell of two unsuitable men, keeps her cupborad 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.
Take a look at the cover of Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth. Isn’t it gorgeous? I think the cover drew me to this book more than anything else.
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is written in a very interesting style. It is basically a series of vignettes, glimpses into Fenfang’s life. This fragmentation actually allows for a simpler storytelling; there is no need to fill in the gaps with unnecessary details. The reader gets a straightforward telling of Fenfang’s life in Beijing.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this book is the glimpse it provides of modern day China. It is hard for many of us to imagine living under a Communist regime. What is it like to live there? How do that many people live side-by-side? Fenfang’s story provides us some answers to these ubiquitous questions and is really worth reading just for this aspect of it.
Though the novel is very short, it is best read slowly. Reading a fragment or two and then putting the book down for awhile allows the reader to reflect on Fenfang’s life, on her innocence compared with the lack thereof in the Beijing that surrounds her. Though there is a lack of urgency to propel the story forward, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is still a rewarding glimpse into life in modern-day China.