Sunday, July 13, 2008

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2000)

I'm finding it difficult to summarize this little book because it’s packed with so much material in such a quiet and unassuming way. Dai Sijie pays homage to the various methods of story telling. He respects the novel, tales told in the dark, ancient song singing, and the more modern methods of role playing and film. He explores dreams, memory, and the power of imagination. He bases his story Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstressaround Chairman Mao’s re-education program and the secret education three Chinese youths receive through the words of major Western authors.

Your assumption going in to this book may be that a Western education is eye opening and always enlightening, but are the characters better off as a result of having attained it? Collaboration and unity of the group lead to a desire for ownership and possession. Theft, lust, and betrayal ensue. Is this a part of growing up or a Western snake in the garden? Would things have been different if the Bible had been accessible and the temple open? What does the final auto-da-fe tell us? Is it a valid indictment or a reactionary ban of ideas?

There’s a lot to reflect upon when this novel is finished, and many more layers to consider in reading groups and literature classes. The movie should be a beautiful one, but only if it’s done quietly and without direct explanation.
(cover jacket designed by Gabriele Wilson).

Click on the link to find out more about this book.

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