Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress (Paperback)

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 the Hardcover edition. 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.
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ISBN-10: 0099452243
Average: 4.2 (6 votes)


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Balzac and the Little Seamstress

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art
Posted On: 01/08/2019

Balzac and the Little Seamstress is a lovely quick read about two young men sent off to the country for re-education during the Chinese Cultural revolution. The lengths the two young men go to in order to obtain books provides the reader with some engaging tales. The introduction of the Little Seamstress into their lives adds interest to the young friends' adventures. The Little Seamstress is at once captivated by their stories. The author's words paint thought provoking images of the circumstances and struggles of the people sent away during this period in Chinese history. I recommend this book to anyone who believes in the importance and power of books.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Field of Interest/Specialty: ESL
Posted On: 01/09/2016

Review by: Anne Kamstra Keeler, Adult ESL Teacher, Beginnings Calvary Episcopal Church
Age Level: High School Students and Adults
This is a sweet coming of age novel set in China during the Cultural Revolution. It is a quick read, yet its shortness belies its depth. The novel contains many threads and themes (education, literature, China, political history, love/friendship, and storytelling), so it will be easy to make a lesson plan and have class discussions about it. The combination of a female and two male main characters makes it not quite as male-centric as many novels used in high school. It is appropriate for a general literature class, an East Asian/Chinese class, or a cross-curriculum history and literature class. With sexual scenes and an abortion, although well-written, you will need to judge whether you can use this book in your school district. I highly recommend it (I would have given it four and a half stars if possible) as a lovely read in general and, especially, if you are interested in this period of Chinese history. See my review of the movie also.

Balzac and the Little Seamstress

Field of Interest/Specialty: art education
Posted On: 10/20/2015

A good fiction book based on the reality of the cultural communist revolution in China. While we never learn any of the names beyond the narrator's best friend Luo, both he and his friend meet and fall in love with the same peasant girl as they are sent to the far land for being the educated children of educated parents deemed anti government. Consider this an ASIAN FLIP to FARHENHITE 451 as you learn how the boys are made to work in coal mines to be re-educated as to the joy of the simple but difficult life of their "uneducated" country men. The two manage to tell stories and even read books to the locals in an effort to educate them, however they in turn receive and education from the locals, including the peasant girl that they both love. Read the book THEN see the movie, worth the comparison to see how true to the text the cinema photographer remained [which he did a fairly good job].

Balzac and the Little Chinese Tailor

Field of Interest/Specialty: Visual Art
Posted On: 09/27/2015

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is about two teenage boys, Lou, and an unnamed narrator, that are sent to the mountainous region of Southwest China for re-education as their doctor parents are in seen as enemies of the state during the Communist Revolution. The two boys are forced to work in coal mines and rice fields. The work is both hideous and dangerous and their living conditions, horrendous. Here, the possession of literature is a crime and the plot develops around the two protagonists and their ploys to obtain a hidden stash of books, Western classics, translated in Chinese. Their love of literature is woven into, and around their love for the beautiful daughter of a local tailor, the Little Seamstress. Lou, who is a gifted storyteller, reads and then recounts Balzac's, Ursule Mirouet, to the Little Seamstress and thus their young love for each other blossoms and is mirrored in their love of Balzac. As the plot unfolds, the narrator, and the Little Seamstress also fall in love as he cares for her in a time of great need. As the Little Seamstress learns about the world outside and experiences a brush of her certain fate if she were to stay, she leaves the mountains, her father, and the two boys behind and heads to the city. As all intelligent youth leap ahead in a cocktail of idealism, knowledge, and innocence, so too does the little seamstress. As for our two boys, they are left behind, traipsing across beautiful, harsh terrain with buckets of urine and feces. Here they are pushed ever more deeply into the painful realities of adulthood. In addition to the relentless agony of re-education, they have lost the Little Seamstress to the outside world that they brought to her, and now they must survive the crushing force of irony.

The Little Chinese Steamstress

Field of Interest/Specialty: Chinese Language/ Music
Posted On: 11/15/2010

This book gives us a little insight into the Cultural Revolution and its “re-education” program that happened during 1970s in China. The main characters, two teenage city boys (ages 16 and 17), were sent to the country to be re-educated because their parents were doctors and were being persecuted. The education system (curriculum) was changed and many books were burned and banned during the Cultural Revolution. It is very interesting to see the teenagers’ eagerness and thirst for the opportunity to learn and the freedom to read. When they discovered that another re-educated city boy had hidden some “banned books”, the two teenagers began to find creative ways to obtain the books so that they may read and learn as well. One of the main characters even tried to use the “banned books” (the translated foreign classic novels) to educate the little seamstress, who he fell in love with, to make her become sophisticated. This education has quite an unusual result.
The book does give us a picture of the customs, beliefs, practices and the struggles of the rural society during that time, as well as the struggles of the teenagers during that growing time. This might be a book for the teacher to learn about the Cultural Revolution and the “re-education”, but I am not so sure about assigning this book for reading for the high school students.

Review of Balzac and the Little Chinese seamstress by Dai Sijie

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japanese art history
Posted On: 04/19/2010

Review written by: Theresa Bradburn
Age Level: for high school
This book was a very quick read. You are immediately taken into the world of the two main characters, who are living in the country being “reeducated” during the time of the Cultural Revolution. They stumble upon knowledge that one of their fellow exiles has a trunk full of banned Western books- many of their favorites. They work hard to obtain these books and when they have them, they read them constantly to escape their harsh reality.
Both of them become obsessed with the local tailor’s daughter, who is a seamstress. She has a romantic relationship with one of them. The seamstress loves their stories and their books, having not been formally educated past the basics. They take it upon themselves to educate her in the ways of the characters in these books. This reeducation of the seamstress works, because at the end of the book she is completely a different person and that astonishes both main characters by her final actions. I won’t say what she does as not to spoil it for others. I was disappointed and confused about the ending. I feel as if the two main characters created a tragedy by feeding the seamstress all of the ideas during that time period, which was so dangerous for thinkers. She can now only get herself into trouble.