In between Coral and Red's attempts to eat their way through a fridge full of eel, Village of Stone describes Coral's childhood in a village of sea scavengers, fishermen eking out a living on an isolated coast battered by typhoons. Her mother died in childbirth, her father abandoned her, and she is raised by grandparents who never speak to one another; she survives marginalisation and sexual abuse and eventually makes her escape.
This story would have been unbearably bleak were it not for its reassuringly comfortable framing and the resilience of its narrator. Though its plot could be that of a fairy tale, Village of Stone is straightforward and immediate, never distanced. There is nothing "magical" about it and the occasional slightly fantastic detail feels out of place — when, for example, one of Coral and Red's neighbours turns out to be a perfumist, rendered unable to work by the reek of eel.
Village of Stone is a charming little novel that is both memorable and entertaining. Though only incidentally, it also offers an intriguing view of the divide between rural and urban in China, and of the social changes accompanying modernisation.
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