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.