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Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth Paperback – August 11, 2009
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From The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
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.
"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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Compared to A Concise Chinese - English Dictionary for Lovers, which was great, Twenty Fragments... reads like a first novel. (Which I found out later it was. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
An engaging novel about a young woman's life in the brash, anything goes culture of the "new China. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Philip Graham
A MUST READ for any person in love or very curious about China.
Xiaolu writes about Beijing in a way that makes you feel it within your skin. Read more
This author is now my favorite. I can't explain why. I think it's because her writing is so SIMPLE and yet so PROFOUND! How does she do it. Read morePublished on July 30, 2012 by LateNightShopaholic
...a book can be as simple as this: fragments of a life of a coming of age female, searching for her place, with all the distress, lack of planning and patience: just the way it is... Read morePublished on June 27, 2012 by Victoria
A good, quick read with brief, almost machine-gun style "fragments" that chronicle a young woman's migration from the potato fields of rural China to the sharp, bleak big city of... Read morePublished on July 15, 2010 by Amazon Customer
Twenty-one-year-old Fenfang Wang is a little lost. She might know the general direction of where she's headed, Beijing, but after that, nothing is certain. Read morePublished on January 11, 2009 by Rachael Stein
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is just that. Definately a enjoyable read.
This is a quick read. This book relays the story of FenFang, a young woman in Beijing. Read more
Fenfang Wang is one of China's millions of "liudong renkou," the "floating population" of migrant peasants leaving their birthplaces for the big cities. Read morePublished on November 1, 2008 by Steve Koss