Sunday, August 8, 2010

Defenders of the Written Word, Unite!

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (Anchor, 2001, 184pp.)

When the parents of two boyhood friends are declared class enemies by Mao’s regime, their sons are sent to a remote mountain village to be “re-educated” by the peasant class. When the boys come across a stash of contraband Western classics, they seek a different way of “re-educating” themselves, as well as their new friend, the tailor’s daughter (known only to the reader as the Little Seamstress). This intriguing premise will reel in any dedicated lover of literature, forcing them to face the painful question: what if it was a crime to read your favorite books? While the author handles his story well enough, the inevitable love triangle between the three young people is poorly developed and nearly undermines the tale’s sense of tragedy. A lovely but flawed short novel that will enthrall book-lovers and defenders of the written word everywhere.

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