Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
A Novel

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Synopsis

An enchanting literary debut—already an international best-seller.

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.
 

About Dai Sijie

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Born in China in 1954, Dai Sijie is a filmmaker who was himself “re-educated” between 1971 and 1974. He left China in 1984 for France, where he has lived and worked ever since. This, his first novel, was an overnight sensation when it appeared in France in 2000, becoming an immediate best-seller and winning five prizes. Rights to the novel have been sold in nineteen countries, and it is soon to be made into a film.
 
Published January 1, 2001 by Anchor / Random House. 172 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, Children's Books, Self Help. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Kirkus Reviews

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The former, a soulful boy who plays the violin, is permitted to keep his “toy” when the quick-witted Luo announces that the tune his friend is playing is entitled “Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao.” Nothing else is as explosively funny, in an oddly paced tale that details efforts to outwit the ...

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The New York Times

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The narrator's own favorite book, for example, is Romain Rolland's ''Jean-Christophe.'' ''Without him,'' he explains, ''I would never have understood the splendor of taking free and independent action as an individual.'' In the end, Luo and th...

Sep 16 2001 | Read Full Review of Balzac and the Little Chinese...

AV Club

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And while Sijie's book was written firmly from Liu's character's perspective, the film version is more formless: While the Little Seamstress takes a more aggressive and central role, that only highlights how little either the protagonists or the audience really knows about her.

Jul 27 2005 | Read Full Review of Balzac and the Little Chinese...

London Review of Books

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Spirituality & Practice

The coda of the film set 20 years later finds Luo and Ma as reunited middle-agers fondly recalling their three years together and their mutual enchantment with the Little Chinese Seamstress.

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Alibi

You might actually wonder if the Little Chinese Seamstress and her teachers might have been a little better off with a little less knowledge.

Dec 08 2005 | Read Full Review of Balzac and the Little Chinese...

Reader Rating for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
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