By Jon Roe
The typhoon-swept and isolated fishing villages of China’s coast make a fine backdrop for a novel, especially when juxtaposed against the hectic and expansive props of a modern city. Using both settings, Xiaolu Guo’s Village of Stone follows the past and present of Coral Jiang as she tries to find meaning in her current life at the bottom of a 25 story high-rise in Beijing by looking into her past growing up in the Village of Stone, a small village on the coast of China.
Coral begins recalling her history when she receives a mysterious package from the Village of Stone, containing a dried and salted eel. Separated from her parents–her dad abandoned the village before she was born and her mother died giving birth–Coral lived with her grandparents, who no longer interact with each other. At the age of seven, Coral is sexually abused by the village mute. These events are intertwined with the telling of Coral’s modern life, living with her boyfriend Red and working a low paying job at a video-rental shop in Beijing.
Village of Stone generally follows the formula of one chapter in the past then one in the present and even though the events are years apart, they are brilliantly connected. Combined with this, Xiaolu uses metaphors well, providing the novel with a deeper meaning. Though there isn’t much action, compared with most modern novels from this continent, the story is interesting and keeps the reader hooked. Village of Stone finishes somewhat anti-climatically but it’s to be expected from the overall subtlety of the novel. This is not a knock against the book but it leaves the reader feeling slightly unsatisfied.
Xiaolu has written six books, but this is the first one published outside of China. It was short listed for a foreign fiction prize from the Independent and is well deserving, leading to high expectations for more releases on this side of the ocean. Relatively short, clocking in at a scant 181 pages, Village of Stone is a good read and well worth the time invested.