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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

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The book “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” was written by Dai Sijie and published in 2000. However, it tells the story of 1970’s. Written quite drily and straightforward, but at the same time it does not leave the reader indifferent. The reason of this interest and fame lies, in my opinion, in one important tactic: the combination of two unlike story lines; politics and love in this case. One can say that the book is autobiographical and there could be no purposely fictional dramaturgical turns, but the thing is that no matter how it was written, only how it is read is important.

1971. Two students are sent to the labor commune at the mountain Phoenix. There they must plant rice, clean up the sewage and never “rise their head up”. Due to the ongoing revolution it is forbidden to read any literature not related to communism of Mao Zedong. Guys could not get used to this system and they find another person, a Little Seamstress, who is interested in developing as well, learns how to read and write, so they find common language very soon. After a while, Seamstress tells Luo and the narrator (reader does not know his name because the story is told from the first person) that in the neighboring village there lives Four-Eyes, the son of a writer and a poet and he has many forbidden books. So the three organize abduction and they succeed in stealing some rare books. One of them, “Ursule Mirouët” by Honoré de Balzac becomes Little Seamstress’ favorite one. Luo reads it aloud for her and the relationship gradually unfolds between them.

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Soon a girl becomes pregnant. Luo does not know this. He has to leave for two months and asks his friend to watch Seamstress. The narrator arranges abortion for her, gives a book to doctor as payment. However, after Luo’s return friends find out that Little Seamstress ran away. The reason for that escape was Balzac’s words “a woman's beauty is a priceless treasure”.

The sincerity of feelings

Same as the culture of China, the book is very delicate and sensitive, although there are no long artistic descriptions, ornate adjectives and branches from the main storyline. The whole point is reflected in the problem of Cultural Revolution that happened in China in 1965 and lasted till 1976 and accordingly, the cultural education of the population and its influence on the established way of life, especially in the context of complete isolation from any sources of information. In other words, the prohibition to read Dumas’ books or listen to Mozart’s music negatively affects both the bourgeois and the rural population that tells us the story of the book. Also, the novel tells that there always will be place for human relationships, no matter if it is war, revolution, deportation out of the country or different class status.

However, in my opinion, accents of “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” are too faded and unemotinal and therefore only a truly curious reader will get to the backbone. The book should be more universal, especially if according to the words of Dai Sijie, that “it's nothing but a love story” (Taipei Times, 2002).

The story is partly autobiographical, because Dai Sijie was sent to Sichuan province for so called “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution, and according to his words there really was a love story, but not so dramatic as in the book (Taipei Times, 2002). Nevertheless, the value of this story is not in its “love” authenticity, but in the political sense. It is always interesting to read about political events, when you are convinced that author has experienced them himself. Precisely from such stories it is possible to learn the real truth, which took place in the country, as any historical sources, even promising the maximum objectivity, cannot give it as fiction does. That happens when author does not have a purpose to write about it, he or she just just uses it as a background.

The book “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” was published in 2000, at the time when there is no political pressure as it was during the government of Mao Zedong. It tells about two friends who suffered from Cultural Revolution as well as experienced a fascinating and at the same time sad love story that left indelible traces on their souls.

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