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.

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