20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Guo, Xiaolu (2009) Paperback - Xiaolu Guo

Life as a film extra in Beijing might seem hard, but Fenfang won't be defeated. She has travelled 1800 miles to seek her fortune in the city, and has no desire to return to the never-ending sweet potato fields back home. Determined to live a modern life, Fenfang works as a cleaner in the Young Pioneer's movie theatre, falls in love with unsuitable men and keeps her kitchen cupboard stocked with UFO instant noodles. As Fenfang might say, Heavenly Bastard in the Sky, isn't it about time I got my lucky break? Longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize.






21 year old Fenfang comes from a rural community but doesn't want to get locked into that life, so she goes to Beijing to find her fortune. She starts off with high hopes but soon finds herself like so many her age, ekeing out an existence finding whatever work she can -- in her case, this means sporadic jobs as a film extra and sometimes screenwriter. 


I found this story to have a number of universal themes that nearly any 20-something (or people remembering their scrappy 20s) can relate to: that overwhelming desire to get out of your hometown, see the world & make your mark in it; the hustle & scramble to keep the rent paid, never letting on just how little money you're living off of; the first moment you realize your parents have officially become "elderly"; the questionable relationships you find yourself in out of a desperate desire to feel wanted and special to someone; even the point when you realize maybe your hometown wasn't so bad and you find yourself compelled to return. It's all in here. Seeing as how the author herself grew up in a fishing village and went on to become an award winning writer and filmmaker, I'm guessing there's a good bit of inspiration pulled from her own experiences. 


While the pace of the story has ebbs and flows, not super riveting at every single turn, there was so much that triggered memories in me of my own experiences, my own "ravenous youth" :-) 


Note For Sensitive Readers: There is a fair amount of profanity in this little story, just FYI.