I loved the style of writing of this book. It reminded me of Pearl S. Buck. A wonderful story of two young men sent to the countryside during the re-education of upper class during the Communist Revolution of Mao. But the story is really the story of fine literature and the effect that it has on everyone regardless of their party affiliation. It also tells the story of youth coming of age in very trying times. A very quick read.
I loved this book! It's a beautiful little gem of a book! It's like a fairy-tale, set in the mountains of China during an unlikely period for a fairy-tale; the "re-education" reign of Chairman Mao. I highly recommend it, and I'm not relisting it, because I want my husband to read it, my son to read it.... It's one of those books that you read and want everyone you love to read it, too.
I picked this book up on a whim at the buy 3 for the price of 2 table at a book store. The boys in the book struggle with their past "rich" life with their parents to learning how to live on the mountain side. While trying to survive, through hard labor, they entertain the villagers with their stories from movies they've seen. As they live in the village, one of the boys meets a girl who he wishes he can love through the stories he knows in his movies and books he's read. Its a quick read that I enjoyed.
It's very, very seldom I like a movie better than a book, but this is one story that was better told on the screen. I saw the movie first, and it was gently funny and so good, although the ending was re-written from the book and I didn't like the end of the movie even worse than I didn't like the end of the book. After loving the movie so much I read the book ... and it fell flat. Maybe if I hadn't seen it first, I would have liked reading it more. It seemed the humor was gone from the book.
Spoiler alert! The end of the book is a little hard to catch for some. Here's my take on it: Luo wanted to open the mind of the girl through literature, and he did such a good job of it that she 'out-grew' him and the countryside, and was ready for bigger things in the city.
Being a bibliophile myself, I can understand the lengths these boys went to in securing these books. It was their physical strength which surprised me. Talk about endurance! A very moving story for anyone who appreciates literature or freedom.
I would call this a coming of age story, but yet the narrator and his friend Luo are already 18 years old when they are sent away from there families as part of the Chinese Re-Education program. This took them away from their families and lives with very little hope of ever seen them again. But that is not what this book was really about for me, it was more a story of hope, of love, of lust, of friendship, of betrayal and how books when you don't have access to them, mean the world to you. They can be your savior and your burden, but you are willing to risk everything for them. How when you have so very little, you can still have a whole world available to you.
Beth D. (DCMom) reviewed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress on
Helpful Score: 2
This book came out in 2000 to widespread critical acclaim. Despite the rich cultural and historical backdrop of Maoist China, the book is not pretentious and it is easy to read. The fairy tale story line takes two rich boys into the mountains of China for a "re-education" where they experience, for the first time, the hardships of living a poor life intermingled with the hardships of living under an oppressive communist regime. Despite the hardships they face, they find solace in a secret and forbidden stash of Western classics which transports them from their difficulties. And, boys being boys, they flirt with the local town hottie, a seamstress.
catsandroses reviewed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress on
Helpful Score: 2
Based on the number of positive reviews and comments for this book, I was expecting more, but was underwhelmed. Yes, a nice little story, told well. But not nearly as interesting or entertaining as anticipated. A fast, enjoyable read, but certainly overly hyped, and not nearly as good as I had expected.
During China's infamous "Culturual Revolution," two city boys are sent to a remote mountain village for "reeducation. They discover and begin surreptitiously reading, a cache of Western literary classics translated into Chinese; they also form a bond with the daughter of the local tailor. It's a bit slow at points, but overall, a moving tale.
Very enjoyable, a quick, easy read for anyone interested in literature's role in the lives of Chinese peasants during the Cultural Revolution. It shows Western literature as having great power for enlightenment of the individual.
Two friends are brought to a remote village to "lose" their intellect and culture, but instead they make new friends and gain a whole new respect for their countrymen. Simply written and easy to read. Another great coming-of-age story.
A delightful, quick read. I became totally engrossed with the characters and the relationship between the two boys as friends and their interactions with the one's girlfriend. I would recommend it, but I will warn you I didn't quite understand the end of the novel.
This was a fantastic book. It was really well-written, had an extremely interesting plot/background, and was a beautiful story. I don't know how to describe how amazing this story was - so I won't even try. It's a must-read.
I loved this little charming page-turner of a book! I finished it in a day. I simply couldn't put it down. It is a story about the exile of a couple of young intellectual city boys for re-education into a remote mountain area during China's Cultural Revolution. There they meet the beautiful daughter of a tailor and secretly educate her from a stash of banned books. The descriptions are so lush, I was transported to the mountains of China during Mao's revolution. Dai Sijie's storytelling artfully captured the pace of mountain living, but masterfully made me tongue-wagging eager to find out what happened next. A true book lovers book, in my opinion- I highly recommend it.
Beautiful tale about the power of literary genius that takes place in the most unlikely of settings: China's Cultural Revolution. Teenaged sons of persecuted intellectuals are classified as "city youth" and sent to the mountains for "re-education" among the rural poor. One of the two roommates falls in love with the local tailor's daughter, famed throughout the mountainside for her beauty. The narrator owns a violin, and the two of them acquire a stash of translated Western masterpieces, and the Little Seamstress is transformed from a barely literate peasant into a cultured treasure; and then she teaches the boys a lesson.
Unlike many other great books about the Cultural Revolution (Life And Death In Shanghai by Nien Cheng, Wild Swans by Judy Chang, and other so-called scar literature), Dai Sijie focuses less on the back and spirit breaking labor and abuse aspects and more on the optimism of 19 year olds in love, stolen moments of pleasure, and the restorative powers of literary classics.
How would you cope if you lived in a world of lies in a world where lies were represented as truth, and truth was strictly forbidden? Would you or could you discern truth if it had been purposely withheld from you and replaced by the weakest, flimsiest propaganda one could conjure? Would you even recognize truth if it were revealed to you, or would it be too foreign, causing you to embrace the familiar? What if you possessed a keen mind and the intellectual capacity to open the doors to worlds unseen, yet had a veil placed over your eyes separating you from the world in which you rightfully belonged? Does nature trump nurture or would the complacency, fear, and defeatism of the repressive environ reign supreme?
It sounds like the stuff of good science fiction, doesnt it, like a twist on Harrison Bergeron or 1984? Well, in this instance, its not rather falling into the realm of historical fiction. This is the world woven into Dai Sajies elegant, simple tale chronicling the struggles of two young victims of Mao Tse-tungs folly in his 2000 release, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.
This book is set in the early 70s during the later stages of Maos Cultural Revolution (certainly one of recent historys greatest misnomers), focusing on the plight of an unnamed protagonist and his friend, Luo. The two young men, branded as young intellectuals and sons of potential dissidents, are assigned for re-education at a small, mountain village comprised of former opium producers cum converted Communists. They are separated, seemingly irrevocably, from their families, and condemned to the bowels of intellectual retardation. They do possess the requisite intelligence, desire, and determination to wade through the shit and strive for truth, but they are also saddled with tremendous obstacles.
Their physical circumstances (and obstacles) mimic their intellectual circumstances (and obstacles), the futility of these respective positions subtly illustrated in this unspoken analogy (14-15):
"What we dreaded most of all was having to carry buckets of shit on our backs. These wooden buckets were semi-cylindrical in shape, and designed specifically for the transportation of all manner of waste, whether human or animal. Each day we had to fill the back-buckets with a mixture of excrement and water, hoist them onto our shoulders and clamber up the mountainside to the fields, many of which were situated at dizzying heights. With each step we could hear the liquid sewage sloshing in the bucket just behind our ears. The slurry would seep through the lid and trickle down our bodies until we were soaked. Dear reader, I will spare you the details of each faltering step; suffice it to say that the slightest false move was potentially fatal."
Indeed, they live in a world of shit both assailing their bodies and their minds. And even as they strive to overcome physical obstacles, they aspire to overcome the imposed mental obstacles despite the dangerous nature of such action. Providence delivers them an unlikely savior to free them from their mental enslavement - Honoré de Balzac. Fate (coupled with determination) delivers the young men a cache of forbidden Western literature, which, in turn, stimulates their minds to new levels and massages and increases their desire for enlightenment. The very act of speaking of the romantic/intellectual ideals of these books (which stand in opposition to Communist dogma) could very well spell the public humiliation, torture, or even death of the young men. Actually possessing such contraband exponentially heightens the peril. Aware of the inherent dangers, their desire for truth still outweighs the likely consequences.
Sijie wonderfully addresses this powerful theme, approaching the desire of the human spirit for enlightenment with grace and simplicity while doing nothing to deter from its power. It was likely difficult for him to understate this theme, to resist the natural urge to slam it down hard to commandeer his literary pulpit and bludgeon the reader with it. See, this tale is largely auto-biographical. Dai Sijie is a survivor of Mao-imposed re-education (a fate shared by, literally, hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens). His loathing for this intellect-quashing repression is evident, but it is evident because the story visibly displays its folly, not because his prose is embroiled in bitterness and contempt. His restraint is remarkable, as is his tale.
This wonderful book (translated from its original French by Ina Rilke) was made into a motion picture in 2002 (directed by Sijie), and was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, losing to Almodóvars Talk to Her. For whatever reason, the Academy Award nomination committee slighted it.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress carries my highest recommendation. Sijies warmth and elegant, pleasing style make this a worthwhile read. When coupled with the fascinating plot and historic significance, it is elevated into must read territory.
A beautiful, often elegiac little novel that effortlessly blends its depiction of the brutal reality of "cultural re-education" during the years of Mao's Great Leap Forward with elements of fairy tale wonder. Often surprisingly funny and effortlessly witty, even as no punches are pulled about the very real terrors and routine humiliations its likable young protagonists face, this is a page-turner for the thinking reader.
Published originally in 2000 in France,it immediately became a best seller. Translated to English by Ina Rilke and released in 2001.
A thoroughly delightful book set during the cultural revolution. Two city boys are sent to a small mountain village for re-education. The author himself was re-educated between 1971-1974.
If you enjoy books by Lisa See and Amy Tan, then I would recommend this one. Quote from The Boston Globe, "Gives the rest of the world a glimpse into that dark place where the human spirit continued,against all odds,to shine its light."
After reading Dreams of Joy and The Hundred Secret Senses, I was kind of on a roll with Communist China village life and this little book was sitting on my stack of books to read. It proved to be different than the other two. One obvious difference is that it's written by a man who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and even went through "re-education," as opposed to Tan and See, who were both born in the U.S. And given the author, it's not too surprising that this novel doesn't focus on mothers and daughters. In fact, there aren't a whole lot of parents around, since this book focuses on two young men who have been sent from the city to a small mountain village to be re-educated.
Balzac (and other foreign, and therefore forbidden, writers) appear in the form of their translated novels, providing a more impressive education than the back-breaking labor of village life. The little seamstress becomes a love interest for both the narrator and his friend. These strands and others are woven together in a beautifully & simply written little novel.
This was an amusing tale of "unintended consequences", in which a pair of 'urban' youths are sent to rural China for "reeducation" in the days of Mao-Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution". The youths' lives there as haulers of dung are made more bearable by their acquaintance with the local tailor's beautiful daughter, and their serendipitous discovery of a trove of literary classics, translated into Chinese. They use their talent at story-telling to gain the good will of the local villagers and particularly the 'little Chinese seamstress'. As the series of adventures and misadventures plays out, a remarkable switch of outlooks of the three young people takes place, that is nothing like what Chairman Mao had in mind!
What a delight! Enlightening, educational, romantic, and inspiring. This little book mesmerized me. The author's descriptions of the villages, the work these boys were forced to endure, their euphoria in finding Western books to devour.....so well done. Now I want to see the movie.
From Publishers Weekly
The Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao Zedong altered Chinese history in the 1960s and '70s, forcibly sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals to peasant villages for "re-education." This moving, often wrenching short novel by a writer who was himself re-educated in the '70s tells how two young men weather years of banishment, emphasizing the power of literature to free the mind. Sijie's unnamed 17-year-old protagonist and his best friend, Luo, are bourgeois doctors' sons, and so condemned to serve four years in a remote mountain village, carrying pails of excrement daily up a hill. Only their ingenuity helps them to survive. The two friends are good at storytelling, and the village headman commands them to put on "oral cinema shows" for the villagers, reciting the plots and dialogue of movies. When another city boy leaves the mountains, the friends steal a suitcase full of forbidden books he has been hiding, knowing he will be afraid to call the authorities. Enchanted by the prose of a host of European writers, they dare to tell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo to the village tailor and to read Balzac to his shy and beautiful young daughter. Luo, who adores the Little Seamstress, dreams of transforming her from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover with his foreign tales. He succeeds beyond his expectations, but the result is not what he might have hoped for, and leads to an unexpected, droll and poignant conclusion. The warmth and humor of Sijie's prose and the clarity of Rilke's translation distinguish this slim first novel, a wonderfully human tale. (Sept. 17)Forecast: Sijie's debut was a best-seller and prize winner in France in 2000, and rights have been sold in 19 countries; it is also scheduled to be made into a film. Its charm translates admirably strong sales can be expected on this side of the Atlantic.
I really enjoyed this book. It was selected for my book group and I thought a book about banned Western books in China would be interesting. However, it is much more than this. It is a story of two boys in the middle of the Chinese cultural revolution. It kept my attention throughout and has a couple of twists at the end that I wasn't expecting. Highly recommended fast read.
This a quaint story about two boys who are exiled to a remot mountain village for re-education during China's infamous Cultural Revolution. They meet the local tailor's daughter. She has some banned books that the boys devour. It is a story about "the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening".
two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village in China for "re-education". During the infamous Cultural Revolution, these two meet the daughter of a local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics which are banned works.
What did I think of it? It was a nice little story. There's not a lot of depth. The characters don't change (much), there is not a great deal of action, the time period and culture are simply the background to the story. Like I said at the beginning, there just isn't much to say about it. But maybe you think differently?
You can read my entire review - and post your own comments - here.
This is a really good book. It gives a vivid portrayal of Maoist China, and the effects of the Cultural Revolution. The ending is a little strange and mysterious, but that is the only semi-negative thing that I can say about this book. It's a really short, easy read, so I recommend it to everyone!
At 184 pages, this was a short, sweet book, but not "an unexpected miracle" (ugh, Los Angeles Times Book Review!). It felt distant and unreal to me, partly because of Sijie's prose and partly because he did capture the disconnected, aloof, but open-hearted emotional state of a teenager. I wished the story had been dense where it was sparse, but it was more like a poem than it was like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I found it bothersome that neither the main character nor the love interest had a name in the book, and I found the seamstress character even more emotionally remote than the others. In the end, the book was just like the titular character: both were lovely, but neither moved me.
This book was simple, but bery good. The story kept you interested. I loved imagining the villages, and the boys trying to figure out what to do, and of course "Young love". It is also nice to realize the importance literature can have on life.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie relates the story of two boys during Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In this political/social revolution, intellectuals including scientists, writers, engineers, physicians, and other educated people posed a threat to Mao Tse Tung's government, which promoted equality for all. They, along with anyone in opposition to the government, were persecuted, publicly humiliated, harassed, imprisoned, and even tortured. Schools were closed, books were banned, and youth were exiled to the peasant mountainous regions to be "re-educated."
In this book two boys, who are working in the mountains, discover that the one of the workers in another village has a secret suitcase full of books. They set about on a quest to obtain the banned books. Once they have them, the world opens up to them again with the writings of Balzac's PÃ¨re Goriot, The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, and other classics. One of the boys begins reading the stories to a little seamstress. Both boys are attracted to her, but Luo soon wins her heart.
Though the circumstances the boys live in are oppressive, the book is not. This book is a quick read with a compelling storyline will keep you turning pages. Historical fictions often teach me more than a history class. Cultural Revolution? Re-education? Before this book, I don't remember any of that from school. My ignorance knows no bounds. Thank goodness for historical fictions; they revive the brain cells just a little bit. This book was eye-opening lesson where I realize how lucky we are in many ways, one of them the privilege and access to books. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com
It is so thrilling to read literature sometimes that is not Western-based. This small novel is unusual, heartfelt, humorous, and wise. Beautifully written and poetic, unique in its storytelling and scope.
juicyfruit reviewed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress on
This was a sweet, sad coming of age novel set in China during the re-education process. A great book for book lovers, as Balzac's forbidden works almost become a character. I was slightly disapointed with the ending in that I thought it was a bit abrupt, but that may only be because I wanted to know more about what happened next. Good naration as well. 3 stars.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is an enchanting tale that captures the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening. An immediate international bestseller, it tells the story of two hapless city boys exiled to a remote mountain village for re-education during Chinas infamous Cultural Revolution. There the two friends meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, the two friends find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined.
Great read for a mid-winter day when you want to escape to another world entirely.
Two teenage boys are sent to be re-educated at the Mountain of the Phoenix of the Sky. There they meet the Little Chinese Seamstress, who Luo falls in love with. At the same time they meet Four-Eyes who is also being re-educated. Although he is considered a success story by those in charge, he is in fact hiding forbidden books.
This is a beautiful, readable book. The 19-year-old narrator sees and lives through horrors of the Cultural Revolution, but the tone is almost insoucient--believably teenage. And, of course, it always feels good to read literature that celebrates literature.
Interesting characters, though I felt the book was too short and certain characters and elements were not as developed as they could have been. Still, an interesting introduction to life in China during the Cultural Revolution.
Beautifully written, full of imagination and depth in its depiction of the craziness of Communist China, but with a cynical, dark ending that steals away the satisfying meaning of the earlier part of the book.
My book club had a very interesting discussion on this book. From the book jacket "In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village for re-education during China's infamous Cultural Revolution. There they meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined."
From Publishers Weekly
The Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao Zedong altered Chinese history in the 1960s and '70s, forcibly sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals to peasant villages for "re-education." This moving, often wrenching short novel by a writer who was himself re-educated in the '70s tells how two young men weather years of banishment, emphasizing the power of literature to free the mind. Sijie's unnamed 17-year-old protagonist and his best friend, Luo, are bourgeois doctors' sons, and so condemned to serve four years in a remote mountain village, carrying pails of excrement daily up a hill. Only their ingenuity helps them to survive. The two friends are good at storytelling, and the village headman commands them to put on "oral cinema shows" for the villagers, reciting the plots and dialogue of movies. When another city boy leaves the mountains, the friends steal a suitcase full of forbidden books he has been hiding, knowing he will be afraid to call the authorities. Enchanted by the prose of a host of European writers, they dare to tell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo to the village tailor and to read Balzac to his shy and beautiful young daughter. Luo, who adores the Little Seamstress, dreams of transforming her from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover with his foreign tales. He succeeds beyond his expectations, but the result is not what he might have hoped for, and leads to an unexpected, droll and poignant conclusion. The warmth and humor of Sijie's prose and the clarity of Rilke's translation distinguish this slim first novel, a wonderfully human tale. (Sept. 17)Forecast: Sijie's debut was a best-seller and prize winner in France in 2000, and rights have been sold in 19 countries