UFO in Her Eyes – Xiaolu Guo

I have been a big fan of Xiaolu Guo ever since I first read ‘A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers’ back in the early days of book blogging. I fell in love with the heroine and her thoughts on the UK from a Chinese girl who has never travelled. This was then repeated when I read ’20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth’, actually Guo’s first book rewritten, and I fell in love with the heroine as she takes us through Beijing and the world of the movie and film industry. This latest book had passed me buy until I saw it in the library.

UFO in Her Eyes is another look at life in the countryside of China and though set in the not to distant future of 2012 it seems to look at Guo thoughts on the way China is changing and what happens to the small villages where over 700 million peasants live and work. This isn’t a dull or lecturing book, but mainly it’s told with a rye knowing smile. It’s not a light book though and has a statement and looks at the situation and is in part saddening and thought provoking too.

Kwok Yun is a peasant living on the edges of Silver Hill Village when one day she witnesses a flying disc in the sky “a UFThing” she then finds a foreignerin the rice fields and shadows of the craft with blue eyes and yellow hair in a field who she looks after. Once these things are discovered by the villagers and then Chinese intelligence from Beijing armed with questions who interrogate the town. Kwok slowly becomes an instant celebrity and the town becomes famous. Soon what was once a small peasant village becomes a tourist attraction gaining chains of shops, a leisure centre (on top of a peasants fields without asking) and a huge statue in honour of the UFO and all of the villagers lives are changed though not for the better as you might think. 

Once again Guo has created a wonderful female lead in Kwok, even if everyone really thinks she is a man. Though we don’t see too much of Kwok all in all as we meet a host of villagers who share the limelight. Guo has written some brilliant bad tempered and comical villagers such as the noodle man who only cooks you what he wants you to eat, the Butcher who starts to relive his days as a Parasite Eradication Hero and the leader of the town Chief Chang who wants to ‘demolish the weak demolish the rotten’.

Like with her books before it’s the bluntness and honesty that comes through Guo’s writing that I love, she doesn’t hold back is witty and says things like she sees them. I also love how with Guo’s work she uses different mediums for fiction. In ‘A Concise Chinese English Dictionary’ it was diary entries and letters. In ’20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth’ pictures are interspersed along with occasional pieces of script dialogue. In this case, as I briefly mentioned before, we have files, emails, interviews, meeting notes from village gatherings and plans of the future city. Yet still without giving you just straightforward prose every crazy villager comes to life as do some of their motives and how dictators are born.

 I thought this book was marvellous and Guo is certainly becoming one of my favourite authors. I am now very excited about ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which is out in January and am expecting to be another gem. I haven noticed I haven’t read any Chinese or Japanese literature for a while and am wondering where and who to head to next. Where indeed?


Filed under Books of 2009, Chatto & Windus, Random House Publishing, Review, Xiaolu Guo

39 responses to “UFO in Her Eyes – Xiaolu Guo

  1. Ooh, thanks for mentioning this. I’ve read them other two that you have mentioned and really liked them. I see this is in the public library so I might just have to pick it up at lunchtime. And like you I look forward to Lovers in the age of indifference.

    The only other Chinese literature I have read is Memoirs of a Geisha which I thought wonderful.

    • I too loved Memoirs of A Geisha though I think Arthur Golden is American. I thought his female voices were amazing, fabulous book.

      Definately give this one a whirl as its wonderful, one of my favs of the year. I forgot to include the pictures of how amazing the pages are… will change that shortly.

  2. I haven’t read any of her books, so I’ll make sure I add her to my list!

    I love Japanese and Chinese literature and am going to read a few of the older Japanese classics soon.

  3. Hi, Simon! Another great review! Ever since I read Ha Jin’s novels (especially Waiting and A Free Life) and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, I’ve become fascinated with Chinese culture, especially their tumultous history. Here in the Philippines we have a large Chinese population, but I think that their culture has become too integrated with the local culture that it’s a bit hard to tell between the two.

    I haven’t seen any of Xiaolu Guo’s novels in our local bookstores and I think that it’s time to tell them to stock up more on Asian literature. The ironic thing is, Philippine bookstores don’t really have a vast inventory of Asian literature (except for Murakami). I guess this somehow reflects our reading habits. We’ve been too anglicized or americanized or what-have-you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that Filipinos need to be exposed to literature coming from their fellow Asians.

    Thanks for posting this, Simon!

    • No worries at all Peter, I love hearing back from you all so its a pleasure. This author is one to look out for, I forgot to say she is also a director and screen writer so a woman of many talents.

      I am amazed that you don’t have so much Asian literature in the Phillipines I would have thought there would be loads, shows how wrong I am. Definately an author to try and get hold of.

    • you are so right Peter, if you go in a book store in Manila you will find at sometimes 10 or more books by Murakami but little else-

      Simon-I will look for this book and read it for the Chinese Challenge

    • I hope you enjoy it Mel! The Chinese Challenge sounds wonderful, I must not sign up for anymore though!

  4. novelinsights

    This looks great, and I need to read Fragments as well. Perhaps that can be one of my first loans from Bimbledon Library…

  5. I’m afraid I can’t help you in the Chinese or Japanese area. I am slated to read some Murakami soon, although I haven’t decided which one. You grabbed my attention this morning with this review…a slight detour from your Sensation rampage! Great summary!

  6. Eva

    I own Fragments of a Ravenous Youth but haven’t read it-sounds like I should get on that! Mishima and Yoshimoto are my two favourite Japanese authors. I just read The Girl Who Played Go, by Chinese author Shan Sa and really enjoyed it. I haven’t had much luck with male Chinese authors-I’ve hated how they all write about women characters, but I’m trying another one for the Novella challenge w/ Raise the Red Lantern.

    • Interesting to hear your thoughts on the male authors and their attitudes to women as I have only read one male author (apart from the wonderful Murukami) and most of the women in that book were prositutes who got murdered but that may have been more the subject matter!

      I will give some of your recommendations a go when I allow myself shopping time, unless of course I see some in the library.

      Do read Fragments would love to read your thoughts!

  7. Once, I read a few pages of ‘A Concise Chinese English Dictionary..’ in the bookshop, and thought it was really fun, was tempted to pick it up, instead purchased something else that I wanted to read more. Still, that book has been hanging over my head and one day I plan to read it. It’s great that you enjoy her books so much as this counts as another point towards them going up my wish list, so thanks for that. I never hear much of her in the blogging world, so am glad to have someone whose tastes I trust to finally say, she is good!

    As for Chinese books that you should read, I recommend Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. Also Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and China Men. Also Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. But then I notice these are all written by Chinese-Americans! Like Peter above said, books available in the Philippines (I grew up there and am also half-Chinese) are more English and American than Asian. Which is indeed sad. My fave Chinese book so far is Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain, although I don’t exactly recommend him to everyone because his style is extremely ambiguous and not many people like that. Maybe you could check it out from the library and test a few pages?

    My favourite Japanese author is Kenzaburo Oe. But I also like Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, and Banana Yoshimoto. Planning to read so much more (lots on the TBR)!

    • Oh if you have started A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers then I promise, well I hope at least, you will love the rest of the book. I think that one will stay my favouirte just because it was my first reading of Guo’s work.

      Thank you so, so, so much for all of the recommendations I have been meaning to try Amy Tan at some point!

      I shall also have a look out for Oe as if they are one of your favouirtes I am bound to love them!

  8. P.S. Xinran also writes Chinese novels that depict realistic life in China.

  9. Bellezza

    I’ve been more familiar with Chinese works than with Japanese, such as: The Death of A Red Heroine (fabulous book!), The Good Earth, and even Memoirs of A Geisha. I always enjoy reading them, and I especially like how you said this author holds nothing back. A witty, and bold, writer is much appreciated in my point of view; I think I would like this book very much.

    Thanks for visiting me today. It’s nice to meet you.

    • I have never heard of Death of a Red Heroine but if its highly rated by you then I think that I need to read it. If you like witty and bold then I think you would really like Guo.

      Visiting you was a pleasure, I have been lurking but not know what to say hahaha.

      • Bellezza

        Death of A Red Heroine was a murder mystery of a girl in China. I not only liked it for the mystery, but even more so for the mood/environment it created. (I was hungry for Chinese noodles all the time!)

        I’ll be reviewing The Shanghai Girls in a month or so, by Lisa See. She also wrote Snow Flower and The Secret Fan which was a fascinating look at relationships in China: between husband and wife, mother and daughter, sisters and friends. I read it when I had just had foot surgery, and the idea of foot binding so explicitly depicted was not fun to read then.

      • Blimey lots and lots of titles for me to look out for – phew!

  10. Bellezza

    p.s. I agree with Claire on Soul Mountain; it’s very long, but wonderful! I just couldn’t remember the name when I was typing aforesaid comment. Also, I love Amy Tan. I guess I love reading, period. 😉

  11. mee

    I read Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers a while back, but didn’t like some of the aspects. But what I liked was probably what you liked – that she’s witty and bold and her observations are interesting. I have just obtained UFO in Her Eyes a couple of weeks ago from a book fair. Hope I’d like this one more!

  12. I was a little underwhelmed by Fragments, I wondered what it would have been like before she revised it for the translation, as she said by the time she came to translate it, she disagreed with some of Fenfang’s views. But I’m sure I’ll read more Guo and this one sounds good.

    A Chinese writer I like is Xinran. Her book ‘Sky Burial’ which is about a Chinese woman going to search for her Doctor husband lost in Tibet was wonderful. I also have Soul Mountain and the first two Qiu Xiaolongs (Death of a Red Heroine etc) on my TBR pile.

    • I don’t think that Fragents is the best of her works. I wasn’t underwhelmed by it but didnt like it quite so much which was partially why I was so thrilled that this one was great.

      Xinran sounds like an author I need to be looking out for in the future too.

  13. I got the copy at lunchtime and have already started it! It’s quirky and the unusual construction of the plot reminded me why I liked her other books so much.

  14. Pingback: The Book Buying Ban… The Update « Savidge Reads

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