Dai Sijie. Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, a novel – Brief Article – Young Adult Review

Dai Sijie. Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, a novel – Brief Article – Young Adult Review – Book Review

Janice Bees

Trans. by Ina Rilke. Random House, Anchor. 184p. c2001. 0-385-72220-6. $10.00. SA

Sijie’s tale takes place during the Cultural Revolution in Communist China of the ’60s and ’70s. The teenaged protagonist (the reader never learns his name) is the son of doctors, and his friend, Luo, is the son of a famous dentist. Because of this, the protagonist and Luo are labeled as intellectuals, and sent to a mountain village to be “re-educated.”

Hopelessly out of place in the mountain’s peasant culture, both young men find clever ways to bend the rules made against Western influences. In one particularly funny moment at the beginning of the book, the protagonist entertains the locals with a violin piece by the forbidden Mozart, because Luo convinces the audience the piece is entitled Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao. When not doing hard labor, the two also entertain the people of the village with storytelling. One of their most ardent listeners is the little seamstress in the town, a lovely young countrywoman.

The two teenagers come to learn that another intellectual young man, Four-Eyes, has a suitcase filled with forbidden books. They manage to borrow Four-Eyes’ copy of Balzac’s Ursule Mirouet, and find a enchanting new tale to use to attempt to woo the little seamstress. When Four-Eyes won’t lend them any more books, they resolve to steal the suitcase.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was originally written in French, and then translated “into English for this edition. I have not read the original, but am quite impressed with the poetic language that appears to have been retained through translation. This is a little jewel of a book, with images both dainty and coarse, and a thoroughly entertaining read. There are some mature themes, but they are handled in a subtle manner. Janice Bees, Chicago, IL

COPYRIGHT 2003 Kliatt

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group