Thursday, July 7, 2011

UFO In Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo

Silver Hill Village is an isolated backwater in Hunan where, on September 11, 2012, a flying saucer zips over the head of illiterate peasant woman Kwok Yun. Soon afterwards, she comes across an injured Westerner in the fields. She takes him home and treats his wound, but he disappears before the authorities arrive.

The UFO and the Westerner have vanished, but village chief Chang is not going to let this opportunity pass by. As an investigator from Beijing arrives to interview the townspeople, Chang lays out her extremely ambitious plans to use the incident to fulfill her dreams for Silver Hill. Meanwhile, Kwok Yun remains baffled by developments.

Xiaolu Guo's UFO In Her Eyes is an effective satire of China's reckless leaps into what certain people consider to be modernity. As I've mentioned before, I've barely been to the People's Republic, but what I've read about the manner of its development suggest that the events of UFO are barely exaggerated. The flying saucer and the near-future setting give the book a veneer of speculative fiction, but I suspect China's got plenty of real-life Silver Hills, towns that due to luck and happenstance have had the opportunity to plunge head-first into disconcertingly fast changes according to what local elites thought was desirable.

On a totally different note, I love buying used books; they often carry their histories with them. I bought UFO at a used bookstore in Taipei. Stuck between its pages was the movie ticket stub the previous owner had been using as a bookmark. The ticket stub was for Monga (a Taiwanese movie) and was from a cinema in Berlin, Germany. Something about that pleases me immensely.

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