It is no secret for those who know me, that I have an interest in Asian culture and history. More singularly, Chinese history and culture. I am an Asian Studies concentration here at Rowan and have taken so many courses on China I have lost count. During one of those courses, Modern China, we were required to read a book called, “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”.
*Spoiler Alert* This book was not a large book, the thinnest of all the books I have had to read for college. This book focuses on two young boys, from wealthier families in China, who were sent to the rural area of the country to be “re-educated”. This was China’s attempt to keep many of the upper class from becoming dissatisfied, rebellious and/or what was “too educated” from trying to overthrow the government at the time. The book is loosely based on the author (Dai Sijie) and his experiences with his own re-education.
These two young boys discover a young seamstress, a girl their age, in the woods, living with her father, a famous tailor from the area. The one boy, Luo, fancies this young girl and the pair start a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance. The narrator of the story does what he can to protect them, but other suitors for the young seamstress often cause trouble. In the end, turmoil ensues and Luo ends up losing his beloved seamstress.
This book is a very easy read. It requires little background knowledge of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in order to read. That knowledge helps bring the story to life but is not necessary. The book is charming and does an excellent job of capturing the innocence of childhood and lack of consequences. It also embodies the process of maturity and realizations of some of the events that occurred. Some of the characters are not as developed as they should probably be, however, the lack of that adds charm to the story. It allows for a lot of speculation in the end as of what happened to the children and the little seamstress.
The little seamstress is at times a frustrating character by herself, as there are points in the book where she seems to be toying with Luo. At the same time, there is the acknowledgement that the characters involved are not adults. Therefore, such “leading on” can be viewed as innocent and harmless, even though later on the book proves otherwise. The narrator also frustrated me as he witnessed certain events taking place and said nothing. This frustrated me because if I were in his shoes, I would have said something to protect my friends. At the same time, I understand how that could have been difficult in his situation.
Overall, this book was an awesome little book. It will forever have a place on my bookshelf. It is a charming little story of young romance and adapting to an ever-changing world. I will finish by saying that if you are looking for light, easy reading – read this book. However, I will not reveal what, but there are subjects at the end that some may find upsetting. Read wisely!