Wednesday, 14 May 2008

20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth - Xiaolu Guo























Mr Third-Rate Photographer here (at least that's what it says on my business card) with some extracts from Xiaolu Guo's excellent( first novel )20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth.


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You can check any Chinese dictionary, there's no word for romance. We say 'Lo Man', copying the English pronunciation. What the fuck use was a word like romance to me anyway? There wasn't much of it about in China, and Beijing was the least romantic place in the whole universe.


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'Fenfang, how are you? this is Old Third-Rate Director, but you can just call me Old Third.'

'Ah, hello, Old Third.'

The Chinese Film and Television Bureau has a rigid four-tier classification system for Directors: first-rate, second-rate, third-rate and fourth-rate. But the loss of face that would have to be endured by someone with Fourth-Rate Director printed on their business card meant that I had yet to meet one.'

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The routine of a small, desolate village can rule its inhabitants' lives more effectively than an imperial dynasty. Fo thousands of years, people have done the same thing. In our village, it went like this: if, around, four in the morning, you heard a rooster in the yard singing five notes, then you knew with absolute certainty that you would hear the same rooster at the same time the next morning, singing at exactly the same pitch and frequency, just as roosters have done since the beginning of time, and would do for ever more.

Or one afternoon, as the sun fell into the valley, ou might see an old man carrying an old axe and walking along the fields.He might cough twice and spit once.And then, just wait, because the next afternoon, when the sun started to fall into the damn valley, you would see that same old man carrying the same old damn axe slowly walking along the fields. Again, he would cough exactly twice and spit exactly once. Whenever I heard this cough, I wanted to kill myself. You see, my ancestors ploughed those fields every day. And then they chose a day to die. On that day, they would tell themselves: today I will die. And they died as if they had never lived. They died like an ant dies. Who gives a damn when an ant dies.


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I spent the next two days crawling over my carpet, shaking out my duvet and wiping the surfaces of my shabby furniture as I cleaned up leftovers from the magnificent glass party. I kept finding blood on the bottoms of my feet. For every shard of glass I pulled from my skin, another would find its way in.

It was on one of these days, as I was extracting a piece of glass from the arch of my foot, that Ben called.

'Hey, Fenfang, how are you doing? It's eleven o'clock her in Boston. I'm getting ready for bed. What are you up to?'

I was holding the phone and staring at the piece of glass that I'd just removed rom my foot. It glowed in the light from my mobile. 'Ben,' I said, 'I've just been tidying my apartment. I was just cleaning the carpet when you called.'

His voice came back. 'Fenfang. I miss you.'

I turned off the phone, and sat still and quiet in my room, my feet resting on glass splinters stuck in the carpet. I had this great urge to cry, but I didn't want to cry alone. For a really good cry, I needed a man's shoulder.

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