VILLAGE OF STONE
by Xiaolu Guo
Review in City Weekend, Beijing & Shanghai
Issue 11, 2004
Xiaolu Guo's fifth book, Village of Stone, and the first of her lot to be published in translation overseas, is a story of self-discovery and a personal struggle with modernity, seen through the eyes of 20-something Coral.
Raised by her grandparents in a small fishing village (the Village of Stone), Coral is a lonely, neglected child - her youth at the mercy of the bitter life of a fishing community and the emotionally volatile relationship of her care givers. Her memories of her life in the village are triggered with the arrival of a parcel of dried, salted eel, posted by a nameless sender from an unknown address in the Village of Stone. This parcel is the springboard for her delving into her childhood, leaping between the present day suffocation of life in Beijing: "sometimes , when we're lying in bed, nestled under the covers, it feels as if our bodies are becoming heavier, more oppressive, much harder to move around. This could have something to do with the twenty-four storeys overhead, the combined gravitational weight of thousands of our fellow residents bearing down upon us" (pp. 4), and a lonely, desolate life on the East China Sea.
Her partner, as she dulling copes with modernity, is Red - stagnancy of the modern world personified, with his passion for Frisbee. Guo has no illusions about love, and the reader easily falls into her poetic depression on the pointlessness of relationships, that "two people together never add up to anything more than one person added to another.... That we continue to add ourselves up in this way is the reason human beings will always be lonely" (pp. 7).
Although Guo tends to dabble in absurd and rather exaggerated metaphors - "every time Red tosses me the Frisbee, I can never quite manage to catch it. And if you can't even hold on to a Frisbee, what makes you think you can hold on to another person?" (pp.25), she wins her readers over with her moments of honesty and simplicity, spattered throughout the dreamlike language. For example, when addressed by a stationmaster as to her real name (she spent a lifetime nicknamed "Little Dog"), he comments on the beauty of the name Coral Jiang, to which "elicited a smile.. I thought it was the nicest thing that anyone had ever said to me in my whole life" (pp107).
Village of Stone is an incredibly poetic work, and has an element of mystery sorely lacking in many Chinese memoirs. The translation work by Cindy Carter would have been challenging and she has done the book justice in her valiant effort, this, Guo's first novel to be translated. L. Hutchison