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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel (2000)

by Dai Sijie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,9032341,327 (3.59)3
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.… (more)
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English (207)  Spanish (8)  French (5)  Italian (4)  Catalan (4)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (233)
Showing 1-5 of 207 (next | show all)
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  AnkaraLibrary | Feb 23, 2024 |
Back in the 1950s, the Chinese Communist party began shipping "counter-revolutionaries" (basically, anyone with money or an education) off into the Chinese countryside to be "re-educated" - aka develop an appreciation for such rural virtues as poverty, ignorance, and grueling labor. This short, episodic novel recounts the adventures of two BFFs sent off to be re-educated not because they themselves are intellectuals (neither of them come off as being particularly bright), but for the crime of being the sons of educated parents.

Exiled to a rural village on the side of a steep mountain, the boys settle into their new lives with little resistance. Eventually one of our protagonists falls for a beautiful young seamstress from another village, and their intellectual boredom is for a while dissipated by the acquisition of a suitcase full of forbidden western books, but that's about all there is in the way of plot. The rest of the novel is a series of more or less piquant episodes - "The time we tried to collect authentic folks songs from the village eccentric," "The time we went into town to see a movie," "The time the headmaster made us pull his rotten tooth," "The time we had to cross a scary crevasse" - told in prose that is almost childlike in its simplicity and repetition.

Yes, there's a bit of gentle irony at the end when the boys' brief flirtation with forbidden erudition results in disappointment and disillusionment - an outcome the Communist party would surely have approved - but that's about as deep as this gets when it comes to themes or meaning.

Enjoyed learning more about this period in history, and the invitation to reflect on storytelling's ability to ignite curiosity, empathy, and human potential. But the biggest question I have at the end of this has to do with Dai Sijie's storytelling rather than the story itself. Being entirely unfamiliar with Chinese fiction, I'm can't be sure whether this novel's simplistic storytelling, passive characters, and unsatisfying resolution are flaws, deliberate narrative choices, or merely represents authentic Chinese storytelling tropes and traditions? Perhaps this is one of those books that can't be critiqued using western literary conventions as a norm. ( )
  Dorritt | Jan 12, 2024 |
Read some years ago ( )
  ChristineMiller47 | Jan 6, 2024 |
A nice simple read with the awakening of Chinese teenagers during their re-education in the country side. It opened their eyes to other possibilities after getting hold of banned books. ( )
  SteveMcI | Dec 29, 2023 |
Balzac y la joven costurera china
Dai Sijie
Publicado: 2000 | 136 páginas
Novela Drama Romántico

Dos adolescentes chinos son enviados a una aldea perdida en las montañas del Fénix del Cielo, cerca de la frontera con el Tíbet, para cumplir con el proceso de «reeducación» implantado por Mao Zedong a finales de los años sesenta. Soportando unas condiciones de vida infrahumanas, con unas perspectivas casi nulas de regresar algún día a su ciudad natal, todo cambia con la aparición de una maleta clandestina llena de obras emblemáticas de la literatura occidental. Así pues, gracias a la lectura de Balzac, Dumas, Stendhal o Romain Rolland, los dos jóvenes descubrirán un mundo repleto de poesía, sentimientos y pasiones desconocidas, y aprenderán que un libro puede ser un instrumento valiosísimo a la hora de conquistar a la atractiva Sastrecilla, la joven hija del sastre del pueblo vecino. Con la cruda sinceridad de quien ha sobrevivido a una situación límite, Dai Sijie ha escrito este relato autobiográfico que sorprenderá al lector por la ligereza de su tono narrativo, casi de fábula, capaz de hacernos sonreír a pesar de la dureza de los hechos narrados. Además de valioso testimonio histórico, «Balzac y la joven costurera china» es un conmovedor homenaje al poder de la palabra escrita y al deseo innato de libertad, lo que sin duda explica el fenomenal éxito de ventas que obtuvo en Francia, con más de cien mil ejemplares vendidos apenas dos meses después de su publicación.
  libreriarofer | Dec 20, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 207 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (149 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dai Sijieprimary authorall editionscalculated
Häupl, MichaelForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Induni, Giò WaeckerlinÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marfany, MartaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mottinger, RudolfContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rilke, InaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schneider, HelmutInterviewersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suni, AnnikkiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The village headman, a man of about fifty, sat cross-legged in the centre of the room, close to the coals burning in a hearth that was hollowed out of the floor; he was inspecting my violin.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the novel. Please do not combine it with the film.
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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.

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