Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dat Sijie

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dat Sijie is a coming of age novel that takes place in China during the Cultural Revolution. Both stark and poetic, this novel manages to communicate a powerful story that is layered and delicately complex.  The friendship between the narrator and Luo is especially inspiring and when the Little Seamstress enters the story, it seems that she will be the focus of conflict between the two friends.  However, this is not what happens and nothing in this short novel is predictable. 

The main friendship is the least complicated but the two young men are in an incredibly complicated situation.  Sent to live in a small village to be re-educated, the boys are forced to labor arduously while managing to find moments of beauty and even joy.  The power for them both to overcome the immediate circumstances is further enhanced when they discover a cache of forbidden Western literature.

I found this novel impossible to put down. I consumed it, reveling in the boys’ growing love for literature.  Anyone who adores reading will appreciate this novel.  But more than this, the novel is about the depth of relationships, the power of education, and how each of the characters affects the other.  This is the type of novel that lends itself to a second or even third reading as I have no doubt layers of meaning will be revealed upon revisiting the characters and their story.  The ending is especially fulfilling.  Anyone who has read Anchee Min and wanted to read more about this era in Chinese history should find this book an interesting complement to her own semi-autobiographical novel and memoir. 

I look forward to reading more from this author, that’s for certain. 

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