Thursday, 25 March 2010

20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth

by Xiaolu Guo

Dear friend, you get the picture by now: reading three books of Xiaolu Guo in a row probably means that I am getting addicted. But, really, it is not my fault: her books are simply too short!

20 Fragments was originally written in Chinese. Ten years later, Guo started to collaborate with Rebecca Morris and Pamela Casey on the English translation of the novel. However, she ended up completely rewriting it:

Ten years on, I found I didn’t agree with the young woman who had written it. Her vision of the world had changed, along with Beijing and the whole of China. I wanted to rework each sentence of my Chinese book, and fight with its young author who knew so little about the world. Although Fenfang, the heroine of the novel, should still be desperate about her life, I wanted to convince her to become an adult.
Fair enough: I liked the result. However, now (that I read the Acknowledgements) I can’t help thinking about the “original” 20 Fragments. The only way to know is to learn Chinese.

I’ve been blessed with cockroaches in every place I’ve lived in Beijing, but it was in the Chinese Rose Garden that I was truly anointed. My apartment was their Mecca. They spent the entire time multiplying.
The thing about my cockroaches, they were very cinematic, like the birds in that Alfred Hitchcock film. I was under constant attack. Singled out, they were weak and destructible, but collectively they were unbeatable. Still, I wasn’t going to take it lying down. Once, I was stalking an enormous one when it made a surprise move and vanished into an electric socket. There was a crackle, a few sparks, and that was the end of that. Heavenly Bastard in the Sky, these cockroaches were sadomasochists, looking for the most painful way to die.

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