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Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress

1414 words - 6 pages

Title: Balzac and the Little Chinese seamstress author: Dai SijieOriginally published in France by Gallimard, 2000English translation publisher: Alfred A. KnopfCopyright: September 11, 2001Hardcover: 208 pagesA novelBalzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a cogent novel that depicts the impact of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, proves the magic of storytelling, compares ancient and modern, and tells a romantic love story between a mountain girl and two city youths.Two boys are sent to a mountain at the age of 17 and 18 during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1970’s for re-education. The narrator, a violin player, and his best friend Luo both have parents that are doctors and therefore classed as “enemies of the people”, which is the worst thing that can happen to an intellectual. The chance of going home from this remote village 500 kilometers away from their hometown, the big city Chengdu, is less than three in a thousand. At the mountain “Phoenix of the Sky”, which is just a poetic way of suggesting its terrifying altitude, they are put into a house on stilts with a sow underneath in the poorest village perched on a summit. Their re-education consists of working in a coal mine and carrying buckets of excrement up and down a mountain. With them in another village is an old friend called Fore-Eyes, because of his glasses. Soon the two discover his hidden suitcase that contains a large number of Western literature translated into Chinese. And when they meet the Little Seamstress, the beautiful mountain girl in need of culture, they decide to steal the suitcase.This partly historical novel tells the amusing adventures of a teenager during his re-education in a humorous, and sometimes sarcastic way, with a lot of black humor in between. A funny example is the day of their arrival. When the narrator played a sonata by Mozart on his violin to convince the villagers that it was a musical instrument, not a toy, he had to call his piece “Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao” to wipe out the headman’s suspicion. Another example is Fore-Eyes collecting authentic folk songs from the peasants to publish them in a journal, in order to get out of the village: he adapted and modified them to communistic songs because the text was a little “indelicate”. The irony behind this is that songs from peasants, who are the actual communists, had to be altered in order to be published in a communistic journal. The characters are all extremely realistic, whether it is the vigilant, coarse, and harsh village headman who is an ex-opium grower turned Communist saying that “spreading out reactionary stories of western Counts (Count of Monte Cristo) is a crime, regardless of the Count’s nationality because our revolution will triumph the world over”, or the poor Old Miller eating pebbles dipped in salt water with his liquor, which he calls “jade dumplings with miller sauce”. My favorite...

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