Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Review: Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamtress By Dai Sijie
a semi-autobiographical novel written by Dai Sijie , first published in 2000 in French and then in English in 2001. Its original French title is Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise.
At the height of Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution, two boys are among hundreds of thousands exiled to the countryside for "re-education." The narrator and his best friend, Luo, guilty of being the sons of doctors, find themselves in a remote village where, among the peasants of Phoenix mountain, they are made to cart buckets of excrement up and down precipitous winding paths. Their meager distractions include a violin---as well as, before long, the beautiful daughter of the local tailor.
But it is when the two discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation that their re-education takes its most surprising turn. While ingeniously concealing their forbidden treasure, the boys find transit to worlds they had thought lost forever. And after listening to their dangerously seductive retellings of Balzac, even the Little Seamstress will be forever transformed.
From within the hopelessness and terror of one of the darkest passages in human history, Dai Sijie has fashioned a beguiling and unexpected story about the resilience of the human spirit, the wonder of romantic awakening and the magical power of storytelling.
My Review: Power of the Written Word
Dai Sijie provides the reader with so much more than a delightful coming of age story. Set within the oppression imposed by Mao's Cultural Revolution, the reader is quickly swept away to a time and place when the pursuit of academics was completely forbidden and professionals were subjected to "re-education" that amounted to nothing less than an attempt to revert individuals to peasantry and manual labor. However, education and knowledge cannot be erased. In this novel, Siejie brings to the forefront the transformative power that literature can have upon the human spirit and the hope that flourishes from within the written language. Although there are a few awkward translations from the original French version, these have very little, if any, effect on the overall impact of the story itself.
Overall Rating: 5
Very thought-provoking, and at times mesmerizing, this is a fairly short novel and a rather quick read... perfect for a cold, snowy afternoon. I highly recommend this novel and if you happen to read it, I would love to hear your thoughts as well!
Other books by Dai Sijie currently on my list to read:
Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch