Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Title: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Author: Dai Sijie
Translated from French by: Ina Rilke
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (New York), 2001
Genre: Autobiographical Novel

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a coming of age story set in 1970’s China, during the height of Mao’s infamous “cultural revolution”. Dai Sijie grew up during this oppressive movement, when books were banned along with western music, free religion, and political opinion. The children of parents who were deemed “enemies of the state” were sentenced to years of “re-education” in China’s rural mountain towns. Sijie was one of these children. In Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Sijie weaves his own experiences into that of his characters creating an interesting look at this period in history.

The book is translated from french into english. I found the wording to be very simple which was fitting of the plain seamstress, though not of the main characters: two young city boys who are children of highly educated parents. The two boys, who have sent to be “re-educated”, find themselves with a  suitcase full of banned books and a young mountain seamstress who is eager to learn from them.  They take on the challenge of doing a little “re-educating” of their own when they meet the young mountain seamstress. SPOILER ALERT: The book ends abruptly when the young girl learns perhaps a bit too much and goes in search of a life of her own. We never find out what happens to our boys who find sanity in friendship and escape in books. This was a disappointing end to a book which I found to be too simple and bland to begin with.

This is a short and simple story of young people living in an impossible time in China. This book may be a good quick read to support middle schoolers learning about Mao’s cultural revolution, for that purpose, I recommend this read to young people aged 12+.

Posted by Janine Reads

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