Saturday, February 12, 2005

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

It's always bothered me that so little literature comes out of the far
east, or at least that so little gets translated and popularized here.

Dai Sijie's beautiful tale of two city youths sent to a remote
mountain village for Maoist re-education after the cultural revolution
of the seventies is charming, surreal, well told and a treat to read.
It's also short and very accessible even to those with little to no
knowledge of Chinese history.

Books other than Mao's little red one were forbidden throughout China
for many years. So when another youth in a nearby mountain village is
found to have a chest containing a number of European works by Balzac
and the like, our two heroes steal it.

Each night they read the stories to one another. They start relating
these stories to the peasants of the villages. A young woman (can you
guess her professon?) is met and becomes central to the tale. I'll
give away no more information, except to say that magic realism is
alive and well in this story, and that there are some really charming
chapters that will bring tears to your eyes.

A fine and enjoyable tale. I'll happily read anything else Dai Sijie
ever writes.
Man it's hard to catch up on these. Luckily, the reading hasn't slowed down. Here are a few back posts:

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Since Nick and Nora are both drunk all the time, it seems fitting that I write this one while drunk myself.

This is the most fun Dashiell Hammet novel I’ve read. It’s got the most style and charm.

Nice and Nora are a wealthy, fast livin’ couple. They mostly go to cocktail parties speakeasies and the like. A la Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote, crime and it’s perpetrators seem drawn to the Charles’s. Someone is murdered, other murders follow, the police are involved, and there are cocktails. Lots, and lots of cocktails.

This book was a treat, a delight, and revised my opinion of Hammet upwards a full letter grade. Unlike the Op, this pair made for a great amount of fun and a great period study.

More, later:
This is certainly the best book by Dash Hammett I've ever read. Inever canvassed the breadth of his work the way I did with Chandler, mostly because I think Hammett is about half the stylist. Never wasreally clear to me why he seemed to garner more acclaim. Neither wereprolific, both came from a genre and publication history shunned byacademia.The Thin Man is a charming book. It introduces Nick and Nora Charles awell-to-do West Coast couple who get caught up in some seedy dealingsin New York while vacationing there. They spend most of their timedrinking and partying and living a charmed and enviable lifestyle. Inthe spaces in between their dinner parties and morning martinis,various people come to visit them and give them clues which ultimatelyunravel a complicated patchwork of crimes, false identities, murders,and sordid relationships. The back of this Vintage Crime paperbackvolume credits Hammett with writing not only a fine murder mystery, but a final "comedy of manners" and indeed, like much of Chandler, so it is. Nick and Nora provide a fun insight into a time gone by when itwas possible to live large, drink cocktails with breakfast, and livein hotels for months at a time if one felt like it. How fine a thingto have been rich, young, married and cosmopolitan during the 1920s. Almost as much fun, I expect, as it is to be those things now.

PS: Please forgive bad editing in this post, it was copied and pasted and that seems to have screwed up some formatting.