Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

by Dai Sijie

Ricki Brodie (02/06/14): After reading Anne's review I purchased this tiny book that told a story of survival under the most horrible conditions. No one word was wasted and each made you feel as though you were at the top of the mountain with the boys. Their ingenuity and fortitude demonstrated courage or possibly youths' belief in immortality. But they did survive.

The use of taking the only book they could get a hold of, Balzac, and using to teach an illiterate seamstress and educate her in the modern world was fascinating.
Rating: *****

Gwendolyn Waring: I had forgotten that I had read this delightful book. I love books about other cultures and this one did not disappoint. It was enlightening about Chinese culture during the time of Mao. I agree with A. Ferber it is a rewarding tale.
Rating: ****

Anne Ferber: Upon reflection, I think my most favorite books are about BOOKS, the value of reading, and life lessons to be enjoyed as a result. With this in mind, this small miracle of a novel quickly surfaces to the top. It takes place in China during the infamous Revolution, when "bourgeois" families are sent to the countryside for "re-education" into the ways of Mao. The narrator and his friend, Luo--two teenage boys from professional families--find themselves in a remote village, and have to use their imaginations and wit to survive in this alien population.

The scene is set on the very first page, when the illiterate village leader and constituents cannot figure out what a violin is, which has been brought by the narrator. They think it might be a bourgeois toy and get ready to burn it. Quick thinking on the part of the boys, however, convinces them that it is a musical instrument and they are challenged to play. The tension subsides when the narrator begins to play a sonata he calls "Mozart is thinking about Chairman Mao".

The book is by turns hilarious and plaintive as the boys figure out how to get around the myriad rules and regulations required for survival. After they meet the beautiful but illiterate little seamstress, they decide that their project will be to educate her, and once they come upon an illegal cache of Western literature translated into Chinese, their joy is unbound.

The story continues, full of romance, tension, close calls and melodrama, with unique characters lending colorful accents to this rewarding tale. The education of the little seamstress proves to be replete with consequenses, some expected and some surprising.
Rating: *****

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