An excerpt from

"20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth"

by Xiaolu Guo

Chatto & Windus 2008 hardback


From as far back as I can remember I wanted to leave that shit hole. I had always planned to escape. I was seventeen when I finally fled my village, a nothing place that won’t be found on any map of China.

Heavenly Bastard in the Sky. Everything about that day is so vivid still: the stretch of the sky, the pull of the wind, the endless tangled fields, the silent little village and how it burned itself into my heart as I ran and ran and ran from those sweet potato fields.

Heavenly Bastard in the Sky. A small desolate village can have more influence than an imperial dynasty. The routine of the last 100 years is the same as in a single day. In practical terms, it could be explained like this: if you heard a rooster in the courtyard singing four notes around five in the morning - then you knew with absolute certainty that when you heard that same rooster in the early hours of the next morning, it would sing a four note melody of the exact same pitch and frequency just as if it had been recorded at the beginning of time, and this would play over and over every morning for eternity.

Or in an afternoon for example, as the sun fell into the valley, you might see an old man carrying an old axe and walking along the old fields. He might cough twice, and spit once. And then, just wait, as tomorrow afternoon, when that old damn sun starts to fall into that old damn valley, you would see that old man carrying the same old damn axe, slowly, walking along the fields. He would cough exactly twice and spit exactly once again. 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 then they die. And they died as if they had never lived. They died like an ant dies. Who gives a damn when an ant dies? 

Heavenly Bastard in the Sky. I picked up the suitcase and walked out, crunching over dried leaves as I went. My footsteps were impatient, and the suitcase was light in my hand. It was as though I’d done this a hundred times before. The mountains, the fields, the well, the market, the old wives, the date tree, and the river – I looked at these things I was leaving, and already they were becoming my memories







  © 2004 - 2011 Xiaolu Guo