Confusing fragments of Chinese life
Posted August 23, 2011on:
I think Xiaolu Guo has a problem with narrative. That’s why she likes writing in fragments. I wonder what her films are like. It’s possible to make films without having to explain anything. In a novel, if this is a novel, you can’t really get away with that for long. Which is probably why this nearly-novel is very short.
One of the things I didn’t like is that it jumps around in time without being clear about the chronology. Just when did this little 17 year old from a sweet potato farm get her laptop and mobile phone? The references to such things as email, VCDs and DVDs are extremely confusing, especially if you have spent any time in China during the last 20 years and know what was available when.
Because of the chronological confusion, I think it does very little to illuminate life in China in recent years, although some passages, taken in isolation, are an accurate depiction of how life was at certain points in time. These isolated vignettes just don’t hang together as either a consistent narrative or as an accurate historical record.
This English version is the work of two translators, an editor, and Xiaolu Guo herself, who rewrote it after it had been translated. The result is 20 vignettes in very short sentences that are highly polished, brittle and self-conscious. Some of it is quite poetic but much of it irritated me.