"Village of Stone" is a very haunting, visual story, about a girl growing up in a rural village in China. It is well written and very descriptive, holding the reader's interest by exploring the people and culture of the village as well as the landscape.
Coral begins her story as woman in Beijing and describes her current existence, living with her boyfriend, Red, on the ground floor of tower block in Beijing. Her job in a video shop feels pointless to her and her accommodation is claustrophobic and unnatural. When a huge surprise arrives in the mail for her, it reminds her of the "Village of Stone" where she grew up and her sad story about her past.
"Village of Stone" covers many issues about growing up in rural China that are not often covered in conventional literature.
Coral is parentless and lives with uncommunicative grandparents who do not seem to have any idea how to show love to a child. The village people are too busy scratching a living from the land to help; indeed, they do not know that Coral was kidnapped and imprisoned under a bed where she was subjected to child abuse for a long time.
On escaping her kidnapper, Coral seeks to leave the village to escape her past - a common theme in life for China's youth who hide their poverty stricken, cruel backgrounds in modern cities.
The descriptions of the culture of the Village of Stone involve some explanations about deities, stories, superstitions and the village's close connection with the ocean. This part of the narrative is beautifully done and makes the reader completely visualise the village as it was seen through Coral's eyes.
Other themes, covering death, birth, friendship, love and loss are covered flowingly into the narrative, making for a very rounded story that gives a real sense of the type of community and culture to the writing.
I found this book entrancing and would highly recommend it for an unforgettable read if you want to be transported somewhere else. It's not escapism, it's a good book to learn about how rural Chinese grew up in those times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Xialolu Guo is a novelist, essayist and filmmaker. She was born in a fishing village in the south of China in 1973. After being awarded an MA in film at Beijing Film Academy, she came to England to study at the National Film and Television School. The short film she made there, "Far and Near", has been screened at the Edinburgh Festival and on Channel 4 and won the 2003 IC/Becks Futures Prize. "Village of Stone" is the first of her books to be published outside China.
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Year Published: 2004
IBSN No: 9 780801 176068
I have strong connections with China, where I lived for many years, and have developed a love of Chinese literature. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to get hold of Chinese literature in the UK, mainly because of the difficulties of translating Chinese into good English. On the odd occasion that I do come across a translation in my local library, I snap it up, which is how I ended up with this book. I have not heard of the author before, although this book was apparently shortlisted for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and therefore had no expectations. What I found was a very well-written and translated novel telling a powerful story about a subject that has always been sidelined in China child abuse.
Coral Jiang is living in Beijing with a boyfriend who seems to have no sense of commitment. She feels that she is drifting through life without any purpose. Then one day, she receives an oddly shaped parcel in the post. On unwrapping, she discovers a huge dried eel, a delicacy from the small village on the East coast in which she spent her formative years. Having tried to forget her childhood, she finds herself on a painful journey back into the past.
Coral was brought up by her grandparents, an uncommunicative pair, who did little for Coral apart from feed and clothe her. The fact that she is systematically abused by a fellow villager without her grandparents knowledge is testament to this. And that isnt the end of her troubles. As the story of her childhood emerges, her desire to distance herself from her past becomes all too clear. Now that she has been forced to face it, will it help or hinder her development? And who sent the parcel?
Initially, Coral does not come over as being a particularly likeable character; she appears to be a typical modern Chinese girl brought up as an only child with the knowledge that she can have whatever she wants. However, it is soon clear that there is a lot more to her than that; in fact, with the horrors of her childhood behind her, it is a miracle that she is still living to tell the tale. I then found myself becoming far more sympathetic towards her. Child abuse in any form is a terrifying experience for a child, but at least in the West, we are slowly becoming more aware of the danger signs. In China, the subject is still very taboo and as such, Corals loneliness and fear that she was at fault is all the more moving. Yet, Coral does not ask for sympathy. I found her a very realistic character; one that any of us could identify, whether Chinese, British, African or pink with purple spots.
Corals boyfriend, Red, plays a much smaller part in the book and again, initially comes over as being a spoilt young man who prefers playing Frisbee to working; after all, why work when ones parents are rich? My perceptions of him did change during the course of the book though. Again, he was a very believable character I had many Chinese friends who had similar lifestyles when I lived in Beijing.
I was deeply impressed by this book. I remember shortly before I left China in 2003, watching a series on television that featured a case of domestic abuse. At the time, this was shock television, because up to that point, issues such as domestic abuse, child abuse, homosexuality and the like were very much kept quiet that sort of behaviour doesnt happen in China. Since then, things have obviously changed and the fact that a book about child abuse can be published is nothing short of a miracle.
Not only was the story a powerful one, but the writing was also excellent. The translator, Cindy Carter, has done a superb job of capturing the language and keeping it as vivid as I presume the original was. This is no mean feat. I have read many translations of Chinese novels and they are often wooden and stilted, simply because the language is so complex and there is a shortage of good translators. I hope to see more novels translated by Cindy Carter in the future. Probably one of the best (although definitely not the most pleasant) parts of the book is when Coral is being abused and her waves of pain are likened to the pounds of the sea waves. Descriptions of seaside life and the poverty that the villagers are forced to undergo are beautifully dramatic and really helped to draw me in to the story.
The story starts starting with Corals new life, then dips in and out of her past in a way that is really addictive. Hints are given that something dreadful happened in Corals past in such a way that I was hooked without having a clue what it was. This is not a long book, which was an advantage as far as I was concerned. The version I read had just 181 pages, which I managed to whip through in a day and a half because I really wanted to find out what happened.
The only possible disadvantage is that the end is perhaps not tied up as neatly as it could have been. Then again, this is a story that is very realistic, and as we know, real life isnt cut and dried. As such, I really couldnt fault the ending.
I can highly recommend this to anyone that likes a good read. The fact that it is written by a Chinese author and set in China is irrelevant. Give it a go.
The book is available from play.com for £5.49. Published by Vintage, it has 192 pages. ISBN: 0099459078
Coral and her frisbee-obsessed boyfriend, Red live on the ground floor of a cramped tower block in the megalopolis that is Beijing. The very epitome of disaffected, unfulfilled youth, their already fragile existence is shattered by the arrival of a mysterious fishy package - as the smells of the sea flood her home, Coral is transported back to a traumatic childhood dominated by solitude, fear and shame. Born on a boat during a storm, and orphaned soon after, Coral was raised by silent grandparents amongst the stern and superstitious fishermen of the remote Village of Stone. Shunned from birth as a bringer of ill fortune, and exposed to the malevolent, threatening forces of a closed-off-society. Coral immersed herself in the minutiae of the landscape around her. At fifteen, she escaped to the big city and shut the door on the darkness of her past. As the narrative darts between the manic sprawl of Beijing and the hypnotic rhymes of a tiny coastal village, our narrator struggles to navigate a path through painful and hidden memories of a time of shame, and a loss of innocence. But when an old, sick man appears on Coral's doorstep, the past and present shockingly converge, and she is forced to confront the secrets of her history in order to realise her dreams for the future. Beautifully poetic and lyrical, haunting yet infused with a quiet and gentle humour, Village of Stone is a startling and bewitching novel about memory, loss and the search for redemption, from one of contemporary China's freshes voices.