Novelist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo has a wonderfully deadpan sense of humor. This was evident in her previous book, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, which revealed, in the form of a glossary, a fraught-with-misunderstandings romance between an untutored Chinese peasant girl, who comes to London to study languages, and the bisexual British aesthete whom she meets at the movies. Likewise, Guo’s feature debut as a director, the meta-comedy How is Your Fish Today? was a gentle satire about a Beijing hipster trying to succeed as a screenwriter, despite having none of his scripts make it past government censors.
In her second novel to be published in the West, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, Guo once again goes back to the cinema. Her 21-year-old heroine, Fenfang, has fled the rural life of Zhejiang province for the allure of the big city. Narrating in first person, Fenfang moves from one menial job to another, eventually cleaning floors at a rundown martial arts theater where she watches movies all day . . .
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