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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. [Paperback]

Dai. Sijie
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)

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Book by Dai Sijie

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"The village headman, a man about fifty, sat cross-legged in the centre of the room, close to the coals burning in a heart that was hollowed out of the floor; he was inspecting my violin." Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that grows on a reader July 5 2004
With each passing day I mentally revisit scenes from this spare novel. (Spare in length and style.) The premise--the children of Chinese professionals who have been designated "enemies of the state" during the Cultural Revolution are sent to be "re-educated" by peasants in remote villages--is immediately engaging.
The chances for these youths to return to any semblance of their former lives are slim. The main characters in this story, the unnamed narrator and his close friend Luo, wind up sharing quarters in the same remote village on the side of a mountain and they find solace in their friendship and with their love and admiration for the beautiful daughter of the local tailor. They also discover and steal a cache of French novels, literature that has been forbidden by the anti-intellectual Red Guard. Nevertheless, they immerse themselves in the literature and the stories give them hope of better times and release from the hardships of their transplanted lives. The books are also seen by Luo as the means by which he may transform the Little Chinese Seamstress into a civilized, urbane woman. The complications of love and re-education drive the plot. Of course, re-education comes to mean more than what the powers behind the Cultural Revolution intend: it includes what the two boys learn about themselves and their neighbors and, ironically, the consequences of Luo's presumption that the seamstress will benefit from his civilizing instruction based upon the French literature.
Dai Sijie's style is clean and simple. The novel is very much about story-telling, and the narrator, in retelling his experiences, provides the model for an effective narrative (without Western Post-Modern self-referential gimmickry). The character's are endearing and memorable, the settings are vivid, and the events are believable and very, very human. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Book about the Love of Books June 21 2004
An enchanting novelette with several themes - the Chinese cultural revolution, coming of age, first passion, and love of arts and literature. Perhaps the main theme is the indefatigability of human qualities such as imagination and quest for beauty in spite of oppression.
The story begins with two young men from the city arriving on Phoenix Mountain, the place they have been sent to by the Chinese government for reeducation, both guilty of being the sons of doctors. Life among the peasants is bleak, the jobs assigned to them the most menial and dangerous and there is no intellectual stimulation. Over time though two important things happen - first they meet the "little seamstress" the most beautiful and intelligent girl on the mountain, daughter of the area's tailor - and later they come into possession of a secret cache of forbidden books, all translations of western novels. At this time period, all books were banned in China except for those written by Mao and his cronies and technical manuals, the boys have never seen foreign fiction before and now they have Balzac, Flaubert, Emily Bronte, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Dickens, and many others, whole new worlds to explore.
Quick to read with vivid descriptions, I will never forget the old man with the bed full of lice and jade dumplings with salty sauce. Also loved the ending, the little seamstress has absorbed all the education Luo has to give and keeps moving on the path of self discovery.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read this year June 1 2004
I was given Sijie's book by chance just after I finished Da Chen's "Sounds of the River". Both books are set in the aftermath of China's terrifying Cultural Revolution of the late 1960's. (This is NOT the Chinese Revolution which culminated in 1949.) If you have Chinese friends or acquaintances, they, their parents or grandparents have been painfully marked by this era. Either of these books will increase your empathy and admiration for the strength of the survivors.
(For Westerners the lesson of the Cultural Revolution is what happens when people who have been brainwashed by a fundamentalist education are encouraged to indulge a craving for absolute power.)
Chen's book is set later in the era, when the wholesale persecution of the educated classes had quieted down and it was once more safe to study English, though with certain restrictions. The narrator is a country boy who goes to the big city to pursue a dream of studying English.
Sijie's novel is set earlier, around 1973 -- most books have been banned and burned. It is a crime to own anything not written by Mao or other communist lights. Intellectuals -- doctors, writers, professors, foreign-language speakers, scientists -- have been sent to mines and farms to suffer and often die in a torture called "re-education".
Although the formal education of the narrator and his friend in "Balzac..." consists of only three years of middle school, their parents are medical professionals, so they are branded as intellectuals. They are city boys, sent to the country to learn how to be good proletarians from a bunch of reluctantly reformed opium farmers.
The miracle of "Balzac..." is that it conveys the oppression and terror of its era without itself being oppressive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a new classic May 16 2004
Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a book like no other. It tells the story or two teenage boys during the Chinese revolution. The nameless narrator and his friend Luo are sent to be re-educated in a rural village when their families are disgraced by the Chairman Mao. This book tells of how they deal with encountering countless hardships, romance, and temptation.
Whilst being re-educated, our duo encounters a third young man, Four Eyes, who is harboring forbidden Western literature. In exchange for certain favors, the boys find themselves submersed in Balzac, Dumas, and other such classic writers who at the time, were forbidden. Luo the in turn uses these stories to woo the Little Chinese Seamstress, the beautiful girl who lives in a nearby village and has captured both boys' hearts.
Throughout all of these horrors, however, Dai Sijie manages to keep the reader's hope for the boys to prevail alive, by feeding them on comical sarcasm and amusing awkward situations. A fantastic read for anyone, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress most certainly has the qualities of a modern masterpiece.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress
A wonderful little book, can be read in an afternoon. This novel is about two sophisticated young Chinese men and their adventures in reeducation and romance during the cultural... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. Colleen M. Paul
5.0 out of 5 stars Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Beautifully written, I loved the characters, the setting, the feeling of being. Culture and believes thru out the book are both entertaining and surprising.
Published 20 months ago by Deanna G
4.0 out of 5 stars Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" by Dai Sijie is a wonderful journey into China during the time of the infamous Cultural Revolution. Read more
Published on July 30 2008 by Pauline
3.0 out of 5 stars P-U
I see this book is coupled with KITE RUNNER and the only reason I can think of for this is that it's exotic in content and involves two young men. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2007 by Harriet
4.0 out of 5 stars A small book, but a deeply moving one
The power of books to transform the unspeakable into the sublime. Why roses can grow on a garbage heap. Read more
Published on July 4 2007 by Mary Ellen
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple story--well told
Basically this is the story of China and the struggles that several people go through. I was reminded at times of "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2006 by D. Kauffman
4.0 out of 5 stars A well crafted novel with an ironic twist!
Aside from portraying a vivid image of China during the Mao years, this novel is also a very well crafted satire (in the same league as one of my favourite novelists -Somerset... Read more
Published on March 5 2005 by Andrea
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay book
Recently I've been lucky with my bestseller or recommended picks, having read Martel's LIFE OF PI and McCrae's CHILDREN'S CORNER. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2005 by ThomsEBynum
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic
This translation of Dai Sijie's novel can be poetic at times but, as is common with translated works, it can leave the reader questioning the cultural context of some passages or... Read more
Published on July 14 2004 by T. Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and Understated
A wonderful, subtle, understated story of growing up during Mao's cultural revolution and 're-education'. Read more
Published on July 12 2004 by Jaye Beldo
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