Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Book - 2001
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New York Times Bestseller

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is an enchanting tale that captures the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening. An immediate international bestseller, it tells the story of two hapless city boys exiled to a remote mountain village for re-education during China's infamous Cultural Revolution. There the two friends meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, the two friends find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined.
Publisher: New York : Knopf, 2001.
ISBN: 9780385722209
Characteristics: 197 p. ;,20 cm.
Additional Contributors: Rilke, Ina


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Oct 10, 2019

This sparkling little book is the memoir of an older man who is put through the horrors of Mao's China, of the re-education of intellectuals and children of intellectuals. In the darkest places, where poverty, back breaking work and punishment by the stern eyes of a Communist revolution prevail.. there is this story. Sly wit and humor color the grim background of a world that is without color or laughter or human connection, where even the biological is under control. Despots can torture, starve and use physical punishment with humans and thus control them, but the worst thing that these governments can do is to crush the human intellect. This book teaches us that art itself can enhance the human condition, that it bypasses all governments, all regimes and all class systems. The words that built our civilization are thus the salvation of the people who have been denied their power in this book. The young men are starved for the books and learning that was blocked by the governing powers, and have uncanny gifts for storytelling that pierce even the most heinous of their oppressors. They are sent to a nearby town to watch films and then are bade to come back and retell the story to an eager audience. As they haul excrement up and down a mountain, they are beguiled by an intellectual who is seeking power with the Communist Party, and he is hiding a secret. He has books. Books translated from the West, and the priceless words become their bargaining tool. They use the books to procure favour, to seek the love of a beautiful underclass girl who they try to mold into an acceptable marriage partner for one of the young men, although both love her. The young woman hears the stories and the change becomes even more apparent, as she does not docilely become a perfect partner, but the words then transform her into a person seeking freedom. Freedom of intellect and position and a desire to change her entire being. She quotes Balzac at the end to her confused lover, and says, " A woman's beauty is a treasure beyond price". One could suppose that perhaps this is a superficial motive on her part, but the point of the story is that she is not going to exploit her beauty, but enhance it. With her imagination, her love of art, she is deepening her possibilities and her existence. When you crush the human soul and deny it beauty, then it reaches out for it, even in the most odd circumstances, and in the worst of times.

Sep 27, 2019

I've read a few books about the Cultural Revolution, most are cruel and punishing . This one is charming, and humorous.

Sep 17, 2019

An absorbing novel based on China's reeducation. Unknowingly, they discover books (totally illegal). They read them and share with a beautiful Chinese girl. Balzac is the main author, who is followed by one of the young men and shared with the Seamstress. As time passes, she absorbs the philosophy of Balzac as her lover wanted. Ultimately, the thoughts of this author absorb the character of the Seamstress. An interesting aspect on the Cultural Revolution.

Oct 24, 2017

Our library's Art Lovers Book Club gave this an overall rating of 7 out of 10.
It had an ending that you either loved or hated!

Aug 04, 2016

SPL Summer Book Bingo: translated from another language

Sep 03, 2015

An interesting look into China's Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a man who lived it. Very nice writing, indented with subtle symbolism.

Reviewed: 6 Aug 2005

WVMLStaffPicks Dec 23, 2014

Two boys, both sons of doctors, are exiled to a remote Chinese village for re-education during the Cultural Revolution. Their salvation is a violin, a Balzac novel, and the beautiful daughter of a peasant tailor. Full of surprising twists, turns, and original characters, this magical novel would be a good choice for book groups.

May 06, 2014

great book for a look at China during the cultural revolution and life in the countryside, especially young people's lives.

Apr 25, 2014

'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress' is a story of two young men sent from city to the Chinese countryside for 're-education' by Red Guards during Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution as their intellectual activities and foreign influences are perceived to be a threat to the communist regime. In their exile, they perform menial work and live in squalor however life is not too hard on them as they find repose in the stunningly beautiful surroundings of the Phoenix Mountain and take delight in teaching French literature to a local lass simply known as the little seamstress while trying to win her favours. The magic of books delivers a sense of freedom to the little seamstress as well as her grandfather in ways they had never thought possible.

Jun 07, 2013

This book was delightful

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Jun 16, 2020

LycheeLily thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

Jun 24, 2013

violet_owl_156 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

Jan 23, 2010

Seraph thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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Aug 04, 2016

Interesting story about 2 boys in the 1970s in China who are exiled to the countryside for "re-education". They both fall in love with the prettiest girl on the mountain, the Little Seamstress. The boys are both quite fond of reading.


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