My youth began when I was twenty-one. At least, that’s when I decided it began. That was when I started to think that all those shiny things in life—some of them might possibly be for me. … Be young or die. That was my plan.Fenfang finds a job as a minor actress of silent roles while nursing plans to sell a screenplay. She embraces Beijing but often recalls her childhood on a sweet potato farm with her peasant parents.
This novella consists of twenty “fragments,” many of which are curiously supplemented with photographs. Each fragment is a kind of set piece, often centered around a meal. This disjointed structure, along with Fenfang’s voice, capture the innocence and immediacy of youth without glossing over the difficulties. At one point, Fenfang despairs, “I was always drifting and believed in nothing.” Twenty Fragments lacks momentum and character development but succeeds in depicting Fenfang’s youthful angst. This is an engaging (and brief) book.