Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sijie. Dai. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Translated from the French by Ina Rilke. Anchor Books. A Division of Random House, Inc. New York. 2000.
Set during the China’s cultural revolution Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is the tale of two friends Luo and the narrator, (name never gets mentioned) who get sent to work in the coal mines for “ re-education” to the ways of Mao. It is there they become acquainted with the beautiful “Little Seamstress” and both fall in love with her. They also encounter a suitcase of the classics and get transported to the inspirational world of literature. The classic books they read give them the strength and inspiration to survive the harshness of their daily existence in their small village in communist China, where food is scarce, their clothes are lice ridden and people enjoy a an elixir of buffalo blood . Their mutual admiration for the “ Little Seamstress” gives the young men with their first taste of true love, boyish romance and fantasy. The “little seamstress” although very beautiful is just a simple, unsophisticated village girl. It is her lover Lou’s ambition to refine the “ little seamstress” by reading to her the words of Balzac. But in the end, it is the “little seamstress” that is most influenced by the power of literature as revealed when she decides to run away from the village surreptitiously. Confronted by Lou as to why she is leaving the village for the city, she explains,” that she had learnt one thing from Balzac: that a woman’s beauty is a treasure beyond price.” (184).
Dai Sijie pays tribute to the power of literature to influence, transport you to other lands, give hope, nourish the mind and brain cells with intellectual food, and most importantly inspire you to be better than who you are. In Balzac and the Little Seamstress, Dai Sijie´s spins a charming tale of friendship, first love and the suffering of those that experienced communist “ re-education” . Dai Sijie in his simple and short book, has very wisely introduced the historical milieu of China in the seventies. He has done this in a very subtle and circuitous way so that the reader can readily identify with the first whisperings of love and romance and is reminded of their own first impressions of classic literature. Dai Sijie, himself a film-maker was sent for re-education between 1971 and 1974. He has made his home in France since 1984.
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