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Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth Paperback – August 11, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

Guo's début novel, first published eleven years ago in China and now reworked in English, distills the rush to modernization through the experience of Fenfang, a young peasant who leaves her village for Beijing. Part of the post-Cultural Revolution generation, Fenfang is untethered from history and profoundly alone, and Guo imbues her flailing efforts to establish herself with a raw, adolescent pain. Pirated books and DVDs provide an education, as Fenfang takes cues from "Betty Blue," "Chungking Express," Marguerite Duras, and Tennessee Williams, progressing from work as an extra in state film productions to a screenwriting career. Guo is a filmmaker herself, and, if her recurrent homages occasionally cloy, Fenfang's rage to express herself carries an unmistakable autobiographical intensity. The book establishes a theme of spiritual estrangement and homesickness that has persisted in Guo's subsequent output.
Copyright ©2008Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Digital edition.

From Booklist

Fenfang has fled the dreariness of her impoverished village in a never-changing land of sweet-potato fields and made the long journey to Beijing. There she copes with wretched little apartments, a violently angry lover, and the viciousness of nosy old neighbors who, resentful of her loveliness and independence, sic the police on her. Cockroaches swarm the walls, while on the street she confronts the great press of humanity, dense smog, corruption, and repression. But things are changing in Beijing, and Fenfang is smart, tough, and funny. She works as a film extra and gets a little break in the role “Female Number Three Hundred.” Writer and filmmaker Guo, whose A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (2007) was a Orange Prize finalist, is a master of concision, filling each “fragment” of her alluring and admirable narrator’s life with irony, anguish, and insight. Once Fenfang recognizes that her loneliness and yearning for dignity and freedom are shared by all, she finds her voice and path to self-expression. A remarkably atmospheric, metaphoric, and piquant novel of personal and cultural metamorphosis. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Digital edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307389383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307389381
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Compulsive Reader VINE VOICE on August 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Fenfang is seventeen years old when she escapes from her tiny, suffocating village, where all that awaits her is a life full of sweet potato farming. She travels to Beijing, where she works many odd jobs to stay afloat, before finally managing to become a film extra. In between making minute appearances in TV shows and films, Fenfang struggles to build a modern life for herself in the vast city of Beijing, facing sexist men, the strict Communist rules, and struggles to learn where her own destiny lies.

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is a highly intriguing and scintillating novel that will leave the reader with much to ponder. Fenfang is a very easygoing narrator and the story unrolls smoothly from her perspective, giving the reader an educational, but still very substantial glimpse into the bustling life of China's younger generation, all in an honest and sure voice that will make a lasting impression. This is a book that demands your complete attention, through random observations, inquisitive contemplations, and a gritty and realistic grasp on life, making the connection between readers and author an instantaneous one.
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Format: Hardcover
Fenfang Wang, a twenty-one-year-old woman living in Beijing, is ravenous for life. Her story begins:

"My youth began when I was twenty-one. At least, that's when I decided it began. That was when I started to think that all those shiny things in life--some of them might possibly be for me. ... Be young or die. That was my plan."

Fenfang finds a job as a minor actress of silent roles while nursing plans to sell a screenplay. She embraces Beijing but often recalls her childhood on a sweet potato farm with her peasant parents.

This novella consists of twenty "fragments," many of which are curiously supplemented with photographs. Each fragment is a kind of set piece, often centered around a meal. This disjointed structure, along with Fenfang's voice, capture the innocence and immediacy of youth without glossing over the difficulties. At one point, Fenfang despairs, "I was always drifting and believed in nothing." Twenty Fragments lacks momentum and character development but succeeds in depicting Fenfang's youthful angst. This is an engaging (and brief) book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is a small book, but it does provide an insight into a world many of us know so little about, life inside Communist China.

Told in twenty chapters, each a fragment of Fenfang's life, this book is a series of small narratives in the life of this young woman. Growing up in a small village Fenfang sees her future as a never ending farming of the sweet potato fields all around her. Her parents are silent and worn down so Fenfeng decides to pack it all in and head for the big city Bejing. At only seventeen years of age Fenfeng is a little out of her depth, and struggles to survive.

I enjoyed this novella that depicts this determined young woman's search for success. She takes a series of menial jobs slowly working her way into the movie business, playing unnamed woman in non-speaking extra roles. She is at times, brave, scared, brash and submissive. She has a few relationships with men, one a bit of a stalker, another is an American citizen who's slumming and a third that's her closest friend and obviously in love with her. Living in a handful of different apartments, she has some trouble with the Communist Neighborhood Committee; their main purpose is to spy on everyone. Most of these are old school Communists who are looked at with disdain by the younger Chinese who are obsessed with American movies and TV, all DVD's acquired on the Black Market. The clash with the old and new was particularly interesting to me.

Fenfang eventually works her way into writing a screenplay that is accepted for filming, and succeeds in leaving her life on the edges of life behind. Since Xiaolu Guo is a screenwriter herself I have to believe that this is a semi-autographical work, one that at first seems slight but grows on you and makes you wonder about these young people that will be forming the direction of the new China.
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Format: Hardcover
This translation was published in 2008. It was a revised version of the Chinese original (Fenfang's 37.2 Degrees), which came out in 2000, when the author was 27, and was her first novel published in China. She reworked the original to reflect changes in her thinking about how the main character in it ought to mature.

The work was indeed a collection of youthful fragments, fairly personal compared to works read by older Chinese authors. It was written in the first person and based partly on the author's life in China in the 1990s, from her late teens into her 20s. There were glimpses of her hand-to-mouth existence in Beijing on the fringe of the film world and a few people she met there. Her attempts at education and script-writing, a few relationships, a brief return to her parents' home in a village in southern China, the sale of her first script, and her leaving Beijing. The book didn't mention that the author was seven years older than the narrator's age, had studied film at China's most prestigious film academy and left Beijing for England.

The novel was strongest, in my opinion, at conveying the narrator's determination to get ahead, and what it felt like for her to be young and poor in Beijing. Cheap roach-infested apartments, cheap food, eating at fast-food restaurants to save on electricity bills, crowds, noise, dust, pollution, and so on. Polishing her writing skills, absorbing foreign creations and trying to meet people who could help her. Whenever the novel remained on these things, it was enjoyable. Whenever it strayed, it began to bog down for me.

The narrator's own feelings about things were usually apparent or could be read between the lines, so I could get a clear idea of her.
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