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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel Paperback – October 29, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (October 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385722206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385722209
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (301 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-This beautifully presented novella tracks the lives of two teens, childhood friends who have been sent to a small Chinese village for "re-education" during Mao's Cultural Revolution. Sons of doctors and dentists, their days are now spent muscling buckets of excrement up the mountainside and mining coal. But the boys-Luo and the unnamed narrator-receive a bit of a reprieve when the villagers discover their talents as storytellers; they are sent on monthly treks to town, tasked with watching a movie and relating it in detail on their return. It is here that they encounter the little seamstress of the title, whom Luo falls for instantly. When, through a series of comic and clever tricks and favors, the boys acquire a suitcase full of forbidden Western literature, Luo decides to "re-educate" the ignorant girl whom he hopes will become his intellectual match. That a bit of Balzac can have an aphrodisiac effect is a happy bonus. Ultimately, the book is a simple, lovely telling of a classic boy-meets-girl scenario with a folktale's smart, surprising bite at the finish. The story movingly captures Maoism's attempts to imprison one's mind and heart (with the threat of the same for one's body), the shock of the sudden cultural shift for "bourgeois" Chinese, and the sheer delight that books can offer a downtrodden spirit. Though these moments are fewer after the love story is introduced, teens will enjoy them at least as much as the comic and romantic strands.

Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

And, the end just didn't fit with the rest of the book.
My Kids Mom
The book has a great ending and can be read in a day but you will think about it much longer!
Nathaniel Bresler
The book is beautifully written and his style of writing is very mesmerizing.
Dizziey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 142 people found the following review helpful By MLPlayfair on September 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Aah, this is a real find. Here's a lovely story with haunting images that will stay with you. It's a story of oppression reminiscent of "Fahrenheit 451" but it also has some harrowing adventure. It is at once charming and startling as we are plunged into the horror of Mao's "re-education" plan for China. It's a love story, yes, but it's mostly about the love of words, the insatiable thirst for stories, entertainment, and escape of any kind, the enormous revolution your life can undertake when introduced to new ideas, old wisdom, and beautiful language. It's especially delightful for those of us who love Asian literature. This translation from the French is a bit awkward in places, but it still manages to transcend language barriers and relate the magic the author intended. Frankly, I was drawn to the book because the cover is so beautiful, and I love the small size. As a former designer of publications, I immediately appreciated the beauty of the package, including the truly lovely typeface. It's a complete experience. And nothing in the book is overdone. It's like dessert for the soul.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" does exactly what this type of book should do. It offers us a brief window into a part of the world, and a style of life, of which we will never be able to encounter first hand. It allows to walk a few steps in the shoes of a different kind of citizen of life, and thus empathize with their experience. It also provides a moving allegory for the power of fiction, and lets us appreciate something that is so readily available to us, yet so rare for others. The escape of fiction allows for dreams, and is a powerful force.
Being almost ignorant of the Chinese cultural re-education system, this book was educational historically as well. I had known of it in theory, but not details such as the banning of all books other than those written by Mao, or the process behind re-education. I do want to learn more about this chapter in history, of which the world is still feeling the repercussions.
The book itself is gentle, with moving imagery and a quiet sense of humor. The characters in it do not rage against the political machine, but instead make do with what life has forced upon them. There is love, of course, because humans will love in the most desperate of circumstances. To highlight the playfulness of the book, my favorite scene is when the tailor, influenced by the hearing of Count of Monte Cristo, begins to dress the village in fanciful pirate clothes and nautical emblems.
Charming all the way through, and small enough to be a quick read.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Koko the Talking Ape on April 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Lovely book. Except for two brief shifts in narrative viewpoint, the story is told in a very simple, almost naive way. But that simplicity hides great richness.
The story is about the power of dreams, imagination, fables, and the dangers they bring. The Cultural Revolution had forced two teenagers, the narrator and his friend, to relocate to a tiny mountainside village. And though these two young men are hardly shining lamps of erudition and culture, they manage to excite the imagination of their neighbors. Their violin (poorly played) charms the headmaster into accepting them into the village. The headmaster becomes enthralled, almost hypnotized with a clock with a rooster on the face, and its hold over him helps the two boys cope with farmwork. When the headmaster discovers the two can retell movies skillfully, they are sent to the larger village down th mountain expressly to watch films and retell them when they return. These things help them endure the rigors of Mao's reeducation. The story creates for them a kind of tiny paradise.
When they find (steal) a chest full of forbidden western classics, they are ecstatic. The stories are themselves dangerous, in Mao's paranoid, anti-intellectual, anti-western culture, where everyone was an informer and the crimes were not defined. But the stories are also dangerous for their exploration of the passions, for their power to excite the imagination, for their sheer craft and knowledge of the human heart. The narrator's friend begins to use Balzac's stories to woo a lovely seamstress.
In the very briefest, most evocative possible way, Dai shows how the books bring hints of conflict and danger into this little village. The narrator finds he is jealous of his friend and the seamstress.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By James Sadler on September 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
I first head of this book when it was initially translated into English. Actually, what I heard was
an extended discussion of the cover, by which a number of people were apparently fascinated. Moreover, everyone who read seemed to rave about it. My curiously led me to pick up a copy
soon after it came out.
While I enjoyed this book, I did not find it to be quite the experience others did. It is a very good book, but, perhaps because it is more of a novella than a novel, I found myself wanting more information. On the other hand, that may speak well for the book, shouldn't a good author always leave you begging for more?
The book tells the tale of two young friends who are exiled to a remote mountain village for re-education during China's Cultural Revolution. There they come in contact with the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden cache of Western novels (yes, including works by Balzac) which have been translated into Chinese. Both become enamored with the seamstress as they secretly read the banned works, and find some respite from their status as laborers in both reading and in performing oral movies for villagers.
Throughout the tale, we are drawn into the lives of the two friends, although I never really connected with the characters or felt empathy with either of them. I was sympathetic to their situation, but I never really identified with them as I generally do with characters in a novel. But trust me, this is only a minor criticism and, based on other reviews, I am very much in the minority in feeling as I did. Moreover, I guess I was somewhat disappointed that the book did not move me as deeply as I thought it would after hearing about it.
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