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Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress Paperback – 7 Mar 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (7 Mar. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099286432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099286431
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A completely beguiling novel. always giving the reader a sense of being there. Very engaging" (Independent)

"Wholly delightful, intelligent, funny and unexpected. A remarkable book, offering sheer delight" (Scotsman)

"A simple story, seductively told, it touches and lifts up the beauty of human experience far beyond the mountains of Western China in which the story is set" (Times Literary Supplement)

"Highly original and sweetly charming" (The Times)

"If you read only one novel, choose this one: it's worth a hundred" (Le Figaro)

Book Description

Here is one of those rare novels, so captivatingly original, so absurdly funny, surprising and moving, that it crosses all boundaries.

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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By ianbuckley@newport.dialnet.com on 2 Feb. 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is a gem, set during the dark days of China's Cultural Revolution, in which novels, particularly novels from the non-communist world, were banned. Two young men from 'bourgeois' families are sent to the remote mountains of Szechuan for a political 're-education' which takes the form of sharing the back-breaking and frequently dangerous work of the peasants. During their stay on Phoenix Mountain the young men's 're-education' takes on another form as they discover an illicit cache of European classic novels, including the works of Balzac and Flaubert. Through the pages of these novels they are able to enter a world of sensuality and sensitivity far removed from the harshness of Mao's China. They use the stories learned from Balzac to win the attention of the book's most delightful character, the Little Seamstress herself, a wild and beautiful mountain flower. The effect on the Little Seamstress of the French stories, the way she too is re-educated, generates one of the most important and poignant strands of this novel's plot. There are many moments of humour in Sijie's book - for instance, when the character Four-Eyes attempts to turn a bawdy folk-song into Maoist propaganda. There are moments too of stunning beauty, as in Sijie's description of the Little Seamstress swimming in the mountain pool, and moments towards the end of the novel of intense pathos. Despite the book's short length, Sijie manages to achieve a narrative of great emotional power as he celebrates the resilience of the human spirit in the face of tyranny: Mao's great ideological apparatus is no match for the capacity of young men to fool around, cheat authority, and pursue friendship and love - and Sijie shows that no grey life-denying dogma can ever repress the great tide of life that surges through every appearance in this beautiful novel of the Little Seamstress herself.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By DubaiReader VINE VOICE on 10 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
This would have been a pleasant enough read but it was the humour embodied in the story that raised it to a 5 star book. At only 172 pages, it was a delight; I don't often say this but I'd have loved it to have been twice as long.

Luo and his friend, the narrator, are teenagers in 1971 when they are sent to a remote Szechuan village for 're-education'. From the moment they arrive with a violin which they rescue from its fate of burning by announcing that one of the songs it plays is "Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao" it was obvious that this was not your usual cultural Chinese fiction. The boys are expected to perform the most mundane and unpleasant tasks but their upbeat attitude carries them through and provides the reader with an insight into this aspect of the Chinese cultural revolution without the usual misery.
Luo's ability to tell wonderful stories results in their being sent on regular two day trecks to a neighbouring town just to watch cinema and report back. His versions of the films are a resounding success in the village.
It is while on one of these trips that they meet The Chinese Seamstress and both fall madly in love. They also meet Four-Eyes, owner of an illicit collection of banned books - and they will stop at nothing to get their hands on these.

The author was, himself, sent for 're-education' in the 1970s and this knowledge adds real authenticity to the narrative.
There's a lot packed into this short novel, don't miss it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By LittleMoon VINE VOICE on 10 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
It is the time of the Cultural Revolution in China and 2 teenage boys, our narrator and Luo, are sent to the countryside to be re-educated, their parents having been denounced as "enemies of the people". The novel recounts a portion of the 2 boys' life in the village on Phoenix Mountain, where they meet the eponymous seamstress and are instantly besotted; and also Four-Eyes, a cowardly bespectacled boy who is the unlikely keeper of the old suitcase full of (mostly French) literature.

The power of storytelling fuels the novel, from Luo's improvised lies, and the boys' sanctioned monthly movie re-enactments, to the narrator's late night re-telling of The Count of Monte Cristo. Stories provide escapism, entertainment and enlightenment; it is literature that allows them both to forget the drudgery and darkness of their predicament. For Luo they are a means to an end, a way to cultivate and civilise the seamstress, and for our narrator, they are an education, and when he dips into Rolland's Jean-Christophe, the revelations come thick and fast: "Without him [Jean-Christophe] I would never have understood the splendour of taking free and independent action as an individual."

Da Sijie is a careful writer; his prose is detailed and descriptive; at times humorous; at times graphically realistic, such as the improvised dentistry with a sewing machine, and the attack of lice in the old miller's cave. He's also heavily ironic throughout, and never more so than with the central theme, which might be said to be the re-education of the little Chinese seamstress. I'm not convinced by the chapters narrated by other characters, which seem to be randomly thrown into the novel, but otherwise I think this is an endearing story neatly told.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Welch on 4 Jan. 2002
Format: Hardcover
Two city youth are sent to a distant mountain to be "re-educated" by the peasants during China's Cultural Revolution, but the discovery of a small cache of western books changes both their lives and the life of a young seamstress they befriend in a neighboring village. This slim volume tells a rich and warm story although set during one of the bleakest and most turbulent historical periods. The author himself was a "youth sent for re-education" during the Cultural Revolution, and his description of the smells and textures of rural China and its villagers and beaurocrats are exquisite, but then so is his wonderful tale of the magic of good literature.
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