Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
reviewed by Hong Yu
A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center
Like a brief breeze on a hot summer evening, with a lingering delicate fragrance of jasmine, the reading of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is refreshing and mesmerizing.
The story is set in the exotic mountains of China in the 1970s during the Cultural Revolution. Two young men, both 17 years old, the narrator and his friend Luo are sent to a remote mountain village to be “re-educated.” The re-education involves demeaning hard labor and a primitive lifestyle. Their lives become totally changed after they stumble on a secret suitcase of translated French literature books.
They share their newly found treasures with a local beauty, “the Little Seamstress.” The story centers on the relationships among the narrator, his friend Luo and the Little Seamstress. The end comes with a surprise, and a little too abruptly.
What fascinates me is how the author transcends the dark grim reality of that crazy time and creates a beautiful, romantic tale with hilarious humor, tenderness of the heart, a filmmaker’s eye and poetic language. This is a celebration of the resilient human spirit, the awakening of the suppressed human desires and the power of books in the time and place of darkness and ignorance.