Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Sijie Dai, presents the story of two young men moved from the city to the Chinese countryside to be re-educated during Mao's Cultural Revolution. The young men discover and read a number of foreign books (forbidden during the revolution), the contents of which captivate their thinking.
BLCS is beautifully written and has an evenly flowing prose. It gives a glimpse into the toils and struggles so many in history have had to endure. For the most part, I found reading it relaxing and enjoyable.
As a whole, though, I cannot give an enthusiastic recommendation. First, the plot wasn't overly gripping; while I finished it in two sittings, there was rarely a spot where it wouldn't have been easy to put it down. While the narrative contained some twists and turns, it was for the most part linear and often predictable. Ultimately, the story's conclusion left me unsatisfied.
I think a word of warning is also in order for those who are sensitive about mature themes. BLCS contains some crudeness and graphic imagery, as well as some explicit sensuality. Additionally, an important component of the plot deals in a matter-of-fact way with a subject that is divisive and many find offensive.