Balzac and the Little Seamstress
by Dai Sijie
Category: Fiction / General
172 pages; ISBN: 0-099-28643-2
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Vanessa Elliott
1970s China. The Cultural Revolution, except literature is forbidden and storytelling hushed for fear of the accusations and consequences of anti-revolutionary activity.
Two teenagers, sent to a peasant village for "re-education. Their punishment for coming from bourgeois homes ... an indefinite period of rural hard labour: mining, tending the land, carrying buckets of excrement up and down treacherous mountain paths!
But, their re-education only really starts when they uncover a stash of Western literature. They can escape their prison of realism in the pages of authors like Dumas, Tolstoy and Balzac.
Having heard nothing but communist propaganda as children, they are mesmerised by the stories of love, passion and historical grandeur.But they are not the only ones whose lives are transformed by the stories of places and people they have never seen.After listening to their romantic tales a local seamstress becomes fascinated by the world beyond her peasant community. As the storytellers, the boys become her gateway to this new world; and she becomes their confident who shares their intimate first experiences of love and emotional fantasies.
Reminded throughout of the magic lure of a god storytale, this book sets up Dai Sijie as the perfect storyteller.