Nine Continents: A Memoir in and out of China

In her moving memoir Nine Continents: A Memoir in and out of China, Xiaolu Guo (Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth) draws an open portrait of her life as a young woman in China.

She begins by delving into her impoverished childhood in the coastal fishing village of Shitang. Her early life with her grandparents is characterized by a hardscrabble existence in which she's ravenous. Her finely tuned prose captures the austerity of peasant life: "When the wind came and blew through the windows, the long and pale-coloured ribbonfish were like a row of hanging men, swinging weightlessly in the stale air." A Taoist monk in a nearby decrepit temple identifies Guo as a "peasant warrior" and prophesizes that she will travel great distances and helm her own fate. When a group of young artists visits the village to sketch and paint the coastline, revealing the transformative power of art, Guo recognizes her calling.

Guo's artistic journey leads her to London. Though the West offers more individual freedom, Guo is alienated by its contradictions: "A feeling of being a 'second-class citizen' dominated my every day in Beaconsfield, and made me hang my head in despair." To mitigate this dislocation, Guo pushes herself to learn English and soon succeeds as a novelist in her adopted tongue. Piercing and poignant, Nine Continents serves as a bridge between two worlds and demonstrates the hardship of immigration but also the value of multiculturalism. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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