by Jacquelyn Lewis

A simple, poetic story about a a Chinese peasant who abandons her rural life in search of something better.

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth gives us twenty connected stories, all glimpses into the life of Fenfang, a Chinese peasant who abandons her simple rural life in search of the glamour and thrill of Beijing’s film industry. Fenfang’s life in the city is initially dreary, until a stint at a movie theater leads to an offer to work as an extra. While filling in the background of movies and television shows, she longs for a larger role in life, looking for the big break that never fully materializes. Through her work and her relationships—including a doomed marriage to a traditional Chinese man and a no-strings fling with a visiting American—we see a woman struggling for a sense of independence and strength while existing in a society that expects constant conformity and submission. Even as she meets producers and investors who insist on the mindlessness and uselessness of their country’s women, her determined spirit is never stifled. Like many literary works translated from an Asian language, the book maintains a poetic simplicity, each word artfully chosen. Through the fragments of stories, we glimpse Fenfang’s growth toward security and independence, away from subservient relationships with men and the limiting traditions of her family.

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