Village of Stone

Xiaolu Guo

translated from the Chinese by Cindy Carter
Random House 2004
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
Coral lives with her boyfriend Red in a twenty-five storey apartment block in Beijing; she works behind the counter in a video store and he organises Frisbee tournaments and is kept by his parents. One day a huge dried eel arrives, sent to Coral from the village where she grew up; forcing her to come to terms with her past, it will change their relationship.

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.

April 2005

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%T Village of Stone
%A Guo, Xiaolu
%M Chinese
%F Carter, Cindy
%I Random House
%D 2004
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0701176067
%P 183pp