At the main LA Review of Books website you can now read my review of Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls: Life Goes On, an often sensationalist novel about the lives of young women working in the factory towns of southern China:
Sheng’s book, translated by Shelly Bryant, is a raunchy and provocative account of the lives of “Northern Girls,” young women who moved from rural China to the manufacturing boomtowns of the country’s southern coast during the 1990s and early 2000s (a topic explored, much more sedately, by journalist Leslie T. Chang in Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China). Sheng herself was a migrant laborer in the 1990s, before she turned to a writing career in 2001 and Northern Girls draws on her observations of life in the south for its material. In fact, Sheng writes in a new afterword, “[t]he hardships they [migrant laborers] encounter are actually more shocking than anything I’ve recorded, reaching well beyond the scope of what is represented in my novel.” This is, sadly, difficult to imagine.
This essay was first published earlier this year in one of the LARB’s e-books, “China Stories,” which is available through Amazon.