By Hsiao-Hung Pai
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UFO in Her Eyes

This article is over 13 years, 4 months old
Xiaolu Guo, Chatto & Windus; £12.99
Issue 335

It is not the first time that Xiaolu Guo has used the idea of an “alien” as a metaphor. But this time, in UFO in Her Eyes, her second novel in English, it isn’t about the alienation of a young female Chinese student finding love in England (as in her wittily written first novel in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers). It’s about the alienation of an illiterate rural resident of a village called Silver Hill in Hunan province, set in 2012, four years after the Beijing Olympics.

Not dissimilar to the way stories are structured in Xiaolu Guo’s previous novel, 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, the narrative here is written in the form of a series of interviews recorded as official witness interrogation transcripts.

The name of the protagonist is Kwok Yun. Xiaolu Guo doesn’t make her unique – she’s one of millions of peasants in China. But one thing changes her life fundamentally: a flying saucer in the sky that she happens to see on the day after National Wiping Out Illiteracy Day.

Not only Kwok Yun’s destiny does change from then on, but the entire village’s as well. What follows is a series of events that will “modernise” the village’s life. It draws tourism and wealth into the village.

It also draws national intelligence agents who interview everyone involved in the UFO incident. The interviewees don’t simply stick to the subject of a flying saucer. They talk about the past too – their past as well as the country’s – although the intelligence agents aren’t interested at all. “We don’t come here for a history lesson!” they keep saying.

Nevertheless, the changes that have taken place over the years – until the sighting of the UFO – are recorded clearly in these interviews.

Despite the transformation and economic betterment in village life as a result of the UFO business – from which Kwok Yun benefits – no one can escape the eyes of the state. They keep watching.

Xiaolu Guo’s strength is her dark humour and her brashness in the use of language.

However, partly limited by the compartmentalised way of story telling, it’s hard to develop empathy for her characters.

Despite this, her reality-like fiction tells of a not so comfortable future of rural China.

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