Posted on Tuesday, January 24th, 2006 at 11:13 am under Fiction

Title: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Author: Dai Sijie
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book:

I have always been intrigued by the phenomena of banned books. Why do certain books end up on a banned list and not others? “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” is a lighthearted tale about two city youths banished to a remote rural Chinese village to be “re-educated.” The two friends go to great lengths to acquire and read forbidden Western texts and to woo the beautiful young seamstress in a nearby village. Although political repression and the atrocities of the cultural revolution are underlying dark themes, there is also a sense of light and hope from the joy the two find in story telling and the reading of the banned books. The escapades of the two teenagers and the courting of the little seamstress are timeless, universal and frequently a bit comical.

But I wondered a bit at the list of authors that the two youths risked torture and imprisonment to read? Balzac, Tolstoy, Rousseau, Hugo, Bronte, Kipling? Books I would only likely read as required texts of a college literature class. Not erotic tales like “Lolita,” or “The Story of O” that I would expect teenaged boys to be reading on the sly. So, based on the recommendations of Sijie’s protagonist, I decided to read Balzac’s “Pere Goriot.” I soon discovered why Rodin’s portrait of Balzac is so formidable. Balzac’s tale is tragic, intricate, wordy and neither erotic nor lighthearted. So while I haven’t finished reading “Pere Goriot,” and I still struggle to see why this book is so coveted by the youth in Sijie’s work, it is an interesting read about French high-society, class struggle, consumerism, morality and familial bonds (or lack of them).

I recommend “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” not only for its portrayal of political repression and intellectual freedom, but as a good, quick read full of comedy and youthful exploits. Best of all, it is a story about how books and storytelling move us and transform our lives.

Click here for reviews of “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.”

One Response to “A stolen suitcase, forbidden texts, love escapades and more!”

  1. Derek Maus Says:

    I’m teaching this book this coming fall (2006) in a Contemporary Far Eastern Fiction course (LITR 481). If you, or anyone else, interested in the bok wishes to sit in and/or participate in the discussion thereof, you’re more than welcome to.

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