Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Essay by silverbullet1412Junior High, 8th gradeA, February 2008

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Title: Balzac and the Little Chinese seamstress author: Dai SijieOriginally published in France by Gallimard, 2000English translation publisher: Alfred A. KnopfCopyright: September 11, 2001Hardcover: 208 pagesA novelBalzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a cogent novel that depicts the impact of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, proves the magic of storytelling, compares ancient and modern, and tells a romantic love story between a mountain girl and two city youths.

Two boys are sent to a mountain at the age of 17 and 18 during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1970’s for re-education. The narrator, a violin player, and his best friend Luo both have parents that are doctors and therefore classed as “enemies of the people”, which is the worst thing that can happen to an intellectual. The chance of going home from this remote village 500 kilometers away from their hometown, the big city Chengdu, is less than three in a thousand.

At the mountain “Phoenix of the Sky”, which is just a poetic way of suggesting its terrifying altitude, they are put into a house on stilts with a sow underneath in the poorest village perched on a summit. Their re-education consists of working in a coal mine and carrying buckets of excrement up and down a mountain. With them in another village is an old friend called Fore-Eyes, because of his glasses. Soon the two discover his hidden suitcase that contains a large number of Western literature translated into Chinese. And when they meet the Little Seamstress, the beautiful mountain girl in need of culture, they decide to steal the suitcase.

This partly historical novel tells the amusing adventures of a teenager during his re-education in a humorous, and sometimes sarcastic way, with a lot of black humor in between. A funny example is the...