February 4, 2009

Book Review: Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , at 8:43 am by The Word Jar

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous YouthFenfang is a ravenous Chinese youth in an evolving Chinese society. She is ravenous for food she sometimes can’t afford to buy. She’s ravenous for love she can’t find. Most importantly, she’s ravenous for the personal freedom not so easily afforded in a country steeped in a Communist history.

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo chronicles Fenfang’s attempts to live life on her terms. As a peasant from a small Chinese village, she faces a bleak future. Her dreams stretch beyond a life of farming sweet potatos, and at the age of 17, she follows those dreams to Beijing.

Taking menial jobs and living in state housing, Fenfang discovers that Beijing “never showed its gentle side. You’d die if you didn’t fight with it, and there was no end to the fight. Beijing was a city for Sisyphus—you could push and push and push, but ultimately that stone was bound to roll back on you.” Fenfang’s stone comes in many forms—a sexist producer not interested in her script because she’s a woman; a possessive suitor; nosy neighbors in her housing complex—but she never stops pushing back.

Readers may sometimes find Fenfang timid in action, but her spirit is always bold. Guo adeptly balances Fenfang’s youthful apathy with adult determination, giving Fenfang’s actions a sympathetic realism. Through the journal-style narrative, the reader feels firsthand the pressure on Fenfang. She is literally one of a billion. She can quietly take her place as a sweet potato farmer, like so many others, or she can fight to make her mark on the world. One can’t help but root for Fenfang in all her battles, whether they are against undeserving men, persistent cockroaches, or society at large.

(Review copy source: Public Library)

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