Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth” as Want to Read:
20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth

3.48  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,418 Ratings  ·  225 Reviews
Life as a film extra in Beijing might seem hard, but Fenfang won't be defeated. She has travelled 1800 miles to seek her fortune in the city, and has no desire to return to the never-ending sweet potato fields back home. Determined to live a modern life, Fenfang works as a cleaner in the Young Pioneer's movie theatre, falls in love with unsuitable men and keeps her kitchen ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 1st 2009 by Vintage (first published 2000)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,986)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sometimes I get this nagging suspicion that there's a greater conspiracy at work to make women writers all over the world feel unloved and unappreciated.
*cough* V.S. Naipaul *cough*
There's a deliberateness in the way most fiction authored by women is either labelled 'chick lit' and dismissed right away without a second thought or made light of under various other excuses.

Why else would this book have an average rating below 3.5?

Let me offer you a word of advice. Don't go by the beautiful cover
Jan 02, 2016 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, chinese
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth (or "The 37.2 degrees of Fen Fang" in Chinese) is the story of a young woman who moves from a potato farming village to Beijing. She has dreams of artistic success, but is stuck in the mire of nameless minor roles. She writes, and stands firm against the oppressive bulk of the city.

Fanfeng is a realistic and convincing character. She is not overstylized or ideal, but has a sardonic and detached voice. She appears cynical, almost used to the lack of food or c
This is a contemporary novel that begins at the turn of the new millennium as Fenfang (who may be the author's alter ego of sorts) decides she can no longer tolerate the quiet, the boredom, the fields, even her parents and has to leave the countryside for Beijing and her dreams of becoming a scriptwriter or actress. Along with her we see the reality of Beijing under Communism, the crowds, the dirt, the pollution, the poverty, and the very limited expectations for all women.

She tries different st
Oct 07, 2013 Cecily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china-japan-asia
As the title implies, this is a fragmentary account of youthful ambition, rather than a conventional novel. It is deliberately raw and unpolished: fast-paced, often angry and slightly stilted.

Some of the fragment titles are amusingly banal, such as "Fenfang sits on the edge of a swimming pool but doesn't get in", and in some ways that sums up the charm of this brief book.

Fenfang is a young Chinese woman who, around the turn of the millennium, leaves the claustro
MJ Nicholls
A simple, lyrical, disheartening coming-of-age story from an eminent Chinese polymath. The tone is largely bleak and hopeless, and captures the feeling young artists have of being stuck at the bottom looking at the top: nothing but a pocketful of dreams against a world of indifference. It certainly struck a chord.
Jan 30, 2015 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Samadrita
Tomorrow, when more clear of head and calmer of excitements I shall attempt some thoughts worthy of this book. Wow.

Thank you Samadrita for your inspiring review and recommendation of this book.
Oct 17, 2015 Sookie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, translated
The protagonist Fenfang arrives at Beijing in hopes of becoming a movie star just when Beijing itself is stepping into world arena, expanding its role in modernization. China grows in the same rapid fashion as Fenfang lives moves; displaying a modicum of modernization while parts of the city (and country) remains intact. Fenfang points out her ravenous nature which is pretty much a representation of rural China in itself. She is a refreshing protagonist who looks at numbers with hope where there ...more
A lovely book - I thoroughly enjoyed reading it -- including the acknowledgments.

Basically... how does a peasant girl from rural China become a modernist ... in 20 snapshots...

...and in the blink of an eye.
"My youth began when I was twenty-one. At least, that's when I decided it began. That was when I started to think that all those shiny things in life - some of them might possibly be for me.

If you think twenty one sounds a bit late for youth to start, just think about the average Chinese peasant, who leaps straight from childhood to middle age with nothing in between. If I was going to miss out on anything, it was middle age. Be young or die. That was my plan."

Seventeen-year old Fenfang Wang dec
To be fair, the title doesn’t deny it: these vignettes are indeed shards: random, unpolished, occasionally sharp, but mostly something to be swept up, trashed and then forgotten.

After her accomplished English language debut A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers, this translation of filmmaker-writer Xiaolu Guo’s 1988 semi-autobiographical book about a young village girl trying to make it in Beijing’s film industry seems juvenile and self-absorbed.

Perhaps lost in translation are the argo
Feb 11, 2012 Nafiza rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth offers a glimpse into the life of a 20-something Chinese woman trying to survive in the city of Beijing. This is a rather bare statement and does not do justice to what the book truly contains. It's a peek into the psyche of someone who is just like you and me except she exists in a city, in a country that is alien to what people in North America are used. Fenfang's voice is wry and cynical and her signature phrase (also incidentally the one that attracted me ...more
Mar 22, 2016 Cheri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was fascinating to experience Beijing from the point of view of a young peasant who runs away to the city to make her own way. The obstacles are many, especially for a woman, but not so different from what anyone anywhere might experience when trying to make it completely on her own. The book keeps its promise to give us only fragments, and I enjoyed the jumping around in time, but there was a little too much disconnect with Fenfang herself. I didn't quite understand her motivation (or abilit ...more
Why isn't this novel more popular? Because it is Chinese? That cannot be why, can it?

Also, why does it only have a GoodReads rating of 3.4? It should be more than that because this is one of the best coming-of-age novels I have read in a while.

China intrigues me and sadly I don't know that much about it so I decided to read more Chinese literature. Reading Xiaolu Guo's Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth was a great experience.

It is about a young Chinese woman called Fenfang, who decides to le
Jan 12, 2009 Jesse rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What at first seems a bit like hollow shards of reflection gain resonance as the pieces fall into place and some semblance of the self begin to be form. Each chapter--or fragment--conveyed in shimmery, deceptively simple prose, serves as a brief reflection of what initially seems to be a trivial situation or occurrence, only revealing its emotional weight later. It's as if the traces and residue of the "off moments" are the things that give shape to life itself, bringing to mind Joyce Carol Oate ...more
Oct 17, 2008 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This short novel tells the tale of Fenfang, a young Chinese woman who leaves her peasant village for Beijing in the hopes of changing her life. In Beijing she becomes an actress, scoring such enviable roles as Woman Walking Over Bridge or Woman Pouring Tea, all non-speaking, background parts. No matter how she tries to become a major player--both in film and in her own life--greatness seems to evade Fenfang. Barely scraping by, Fengang is ravenous for this meaningful life she so longs for but ca ...more
Nesa Sivagnanam
Feb 06, 2011 Nesa Sivagnanam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a first book I'm reading by this writer and I must say that I liked it very much. I read it through in one sitting and the way the story is written pretty much demands that.

Fenfang is and has travelled one thousand eight hundred miles to seek her fortune in Beijing. In the city she tries the persona of a movie extra. She's tired of making tin cans, cleaning rooms and tidying movie theaters for a living. She's hungry for love, to appease the loneliness in her stomach that even her favori
Sean Wilson
Jul 17, 2016 Sean Wilson rated it really liked it
Combines the raw nihilism of Less Than Zero and a playful innocence in an engaging novel of an aspiring actress and film lover struggling to make a living in Beijing. It's a quick read, but don't let that put you off. It's funny and brutal, with such a likeable main character and narrator.
Sonia Almeida Dias
Mar 11, 2016 Sonia Almeida Dias rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia
Loved this book. Smart, well written, comes to show what we all know already, we are all so different but we are all the same. I like reading books from cultures so different than mine, and this was an interesting portrait about coming of age on collective China, and trying to be an individual on a society where that is not allowed. Growing up in a time and in a place where everything is changing fast, and where you cannot keep up with the pace of the world around you, can be difficult and inter ...more
Feb 24, 2016 Darnia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heavenly Bastard in The Sky, what a gem. A wonderful read I've got from this book! I realized this kind of story won't be everybody's favorite, but in some ways, I feel related with Fenfang. Well, I didn't have an obsession to became an artist or wrote some scripts, off course. But I exactly feel the way to survive in the big city. The tiredness, the lonelines, and to feel the joy when we had achieved something, to have a little hope which make us spent more times in the unpredictable future in ...more
Sep 23, 2015 Minn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tertiary
When reading translated texts, I often feel that the original feeling and language isn't necessarily well-represented by the finished product - certainly the lyricism of the Chinese language is difficult to replicate in English and results in a very raw but awkward re-telling, which I struggled through. The fragmented story is possibly the least enjoyable aspect, as it rips the reader from memory to memory. What I did enjoy was Fenfang's desperate life, her listlessness, the search for something ...more
I picked this book up because (1) I want to read more novels about China (2) the cover is gorgeous. It is, in fact, one of the prettiest covers I've ever seen.

If you're looking for a traditional novel, one with a linear plot and a conclusive ending, you're going to be disappointed. This is literaly a collection of 20 fragments in the life of Fenfang as a teenager/in her early 20s. What happens afterwards? We'll never know. At first I was frustrated by the lack of an ending, but then I realized t
Edward Rathke
A quick novella that I read over about an eight hour period. Began at 3am, fell asleep at 4am, woke at 10am and finished by 1130.

The life of a young rural chinese woman in Beijing and the chaos that is her life. She is in a search for the 'shiny things' which is never defined but never misunderstood. She's searching for what all young people want, for what all people want. She works as a film extra to make money and writes scripts because her friends tell her to.

The language is surprising at ti
Evelyn Rose
The line ‘Have you feared the future would be nothing to you?’ which Fengfang quotes from Whitman’s House of Leaves is the most fitting question that surrounds our young narrator’s journey from a ‘forgotten sweet potato under the dark soil’ to an ‘extra’ in the big city. For Fengfang is in search of a meaningful life despite nothing remaining certain except the inevitability of a transient youth. However, it is the pursuit that drives Fenfang forward, propelling her to forge her own identity fro ...more
Celeste Ng
The dust jacket of Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth depicts not one but three young Chinese women: on the front, a doll-eyed girl sips a pink milkshake through pursed, glossed lips; on the spine, she leans against a subway pole with eyes closed, as if exhausted by the title that slices across her face; and finally, on the luridly red-tinted back, she crosses a darkened street, hurrying out of the photo head-first. You might read these women as Morning, Afternoon, and Night; or a ...more
Phoebe (UnapologeticallyBookish)
Heavenly Bastard in the sky, I loved this book.

Guo has a really strong style of writing and I love her for that. I picked up this book expecting it to be a chick lit (the blurb at the back did say that she's trying to make it out in the film industry and is dating 'unsuitable men'), but it really is not. It's a coming of age novel. It's also a social commentary on the impossibility to live as an independent woman in modern day China, without being overtly didactic.

Our protagonist Fenfang is 21
Angie Fehl
This was closer to a 3.5 read for me.

21 year old Fenfang comes from a rural community but doesn't want to get locked into that life, so she goes to Beijing to find her fortune. She starts off with high hopes but soon finds herself like so many her age, ekeing out an existence finding whatever work she can -- in her case, this means sporadic jobs as a film extra and sometimes screenwriter.

I found this story to have a number of universal themes that nearly any 20-something (or people remembering
Susan Strickland
Jan 24, 2015 Susan Strickland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couplandesque
A few pages into this book, I was reminded of Douglas Coupland. Plausible but unbelievable causes and effects, interspersed with photographs that don't seem to have much to do with the story; a story within the story that is penned by the narrator; onslaughts of colorful relevance; and many, many quotable passages that you just want to underline or read out loud to somebody.

Halfway through reading it, I finally looked at the back cover and noticed a blurb comparing 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Yo
Feb 23, 2014 Maan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
Book #13 for 2014: Seems like Fenfang and I have similarities (blood type, love for food, etc). This is my third Xiaolu Guo book and I have to say, this book is just okay (compared to Village of Stone and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. Just the same, this story had a number of poignant and thought provoking lines that captivated me. I still am a Xiaolu Guo fan. Here's to wanderlust, destructive relationships, ambitions, and whatnot.

Favorite Lines:

I have to say, I didn't feel an
Rafael Munia
Jan 22, 2016 Rafael Munia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
One of the best novels I read in a long time. Few scholars have managed to engage with life in contemporary city life as this novel can. The author manages to give us a great depiction of how it feels to be an outsider in your own country, all conveyed in a brilliantly worked mataphore of the main character as an movie extra, and how the feeling of being an extra in a movie made for someone else to shine and act on remains while living in the contemporary Beijing; a city in which the countryside ...more
Dec 13, 2014 Carolina rated it really liked it
This novel shines for its rawness. The 20 Fragments are actual fragments – I read this book in probably not much longer than a couple hours, if I do the math. And yet, its honesty shines through. It tells of the life in China for a young peasant woman attempting success in Beijing. It’s about loneliness, but also about independence; about disillusion, but an ever blooming hope; it’s about failure, but also about overcoming.

It sheds some light over the outdated female representations of women in
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • Please Don't Call Me Human
  • The Boat to Redemption
  • Dream of Ding Village
  • Brothers
  • The Noodle Maker
  • The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai
  • Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today's China
  • Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
  • The Golden Days (The Story of the Stone #1)
  • Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army
  • Three Sisters
  • The Vagrants
  • Love in a Fallen City
  • Daughter of the River: An Autobiography
  • Lili
  • Red Mandarin Dress (Inspector Chen Cao #5)
  • The Butcher's Wife
Xiaolu Guo (Simplified Chinese: 郭小櫓 pinyin:guō xiǎo lǔ, born 1973) is a Chinese novelist and filmmaker. She utilizes various media, including film and writing, to tell stories of alienation, introspection and tragedy, and to explore China's past, present and future in an increasingly connected world.

Her novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers was nominated for the 2007 Orange Prize f
More about Xiaolu Guo...

Share This Book

“People always say it's harder to heal a wounded heart than a wounded body. Bullshit. It's exactly the opposite—a wounded body takes much longer to heal. A wounded heart is nothing but ashes of memories. But the body is everything. The body is blood and veins and cells and nerves. A wounded body is when, after leaving a man you’ve lived with for three years, you curl up on your side of the bed as if there’s still somebody beside you. That is a wounded body: a body that feels connected to someone who is no longer there.” 25 likes
“Huizi would say, never look back to the past. Never regret. Even if there is emptiness ahead, never look back.” 19 likes
More quotes…