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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  58,443 ratings  ·  4,432 reviews
In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village for reeducation during China's infamous Cultural Revolution. There they 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 secr ...more
Paperback, 184 pages
Published October 29th 2002 by Anchor Books (first published 2000)
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Jan Edmonds I'll check out the movie. The book was so delightful, I would love to see it depicted. Thanks!…moreI'll check out the movie. The book was so delightful, I would love to see it depicted. Thanks!(less)
Alex Flinn I think it's appropriate for anyone who is interested in reading it (actually interested in it, not reading it because their mom suggests it). It's a …moreI think it's appropriate for anyone who is interested in reading it (actually interested in it, not reading it because their mom suggests it). It's a serious book. It has some references to the fact that sex has taken place, but it's not explicit, and the book is not a romance. Rather, it is a story of the Cultural Revolution, which is valuable. (less)
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Jim Fonseca
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Two urban Chinese boys, 17 and 18 when the story starts, are sent to a farming village to do rural work as part of their “re-education” under Mao’s cultural revolution. Their terms are indefinite because their parents, doctors and dentists, were considered bourgeois enemies of the people.

The author was himself “re-educated” in China between 1971 and 1974 and has lived in France since 1984. (The book is translated from the French.) All the universities were closed and all boys and girls who had
Will Byrnes
Oct 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 27, 2008 added it
Shelves: read-2008
A charming book, written with astute quickness, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is both erudite and approachable. It is full of details that absolutely make the scenes pop with vividness, but it does not dawdle over what is not necessary. It is a story with a point.

Which is where this book falls apart. Despite its captivation of the reader, its quick pace, its interesting plot, this short novel begins to come apart when perspectives are suddenly shifted (why?) and then again at the end
Mar 07, 2008 rated it liked it
On its surface, this book has all the ingredients for a really interesting read: a fascinating historical period, potentially interesting characters, and the frequently quite compelling topic of the use or function of literature within literature. Unfortunately, I felt like Sijie failed to live up to the greatness of his own project.

The Cultural Revolution is supposedly the force that propels this story forward. It is, after all, the reason for which the main character and his best friend Luo a
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sweet charming story with a fable quality. The story revolves around a part of history that I feel somewhat ignorant about, the story takes place during the Chinese cultural revolution a time in history where communism was a means to suppress and take away individuality. Life is controlled under the regime of Mao Zedong chairman of the Chinese communist party and restrictions take place, where revolutionary literature is forbidden and higher learning is discouraged, a time when boys where taken ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary
Imagine for a moment that all the books you own are taken from you, pulped or set ablaze, labeled as libelous, unworthy to what your new home now thinks and practices. What would you do? How would this make you feel? Then, as if the act of destruction upon your books was not enough, you, too, are taken to a place where you can be re-educated. All the mysteries or romances or science fiction or literary fiction that you one vigorously pumped into your brain was now going to be methodically replac ...more
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
This story is cute, kind of odd, and without much plot or character development. Dai Sijie's first novel tells the story about two teenage boys sent to the mountains in China for "re-education" under the Maoist regime. Sijie himself was re-educated from 1971 to 1974, which is when this novel takes place. While Sijie builds tension very well he never really delivers. Towards the end the perspective changes for what feels like absolutely no reason and I found myself saying, "what?!" in my head and ...more
Petra-X Off having adventures
Jun 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, fiction
This is a gentle, magical book, quite unlike any other I have ever read. The author really gets into the minds of the two boys and the seamstress and the tiny, colourful life they create together despite the poverty of mountain village and the oppression of the Cultural Revolution. The ending is just perfect too.
Ahmad Sharabiani
Balzac Et La Petite Tailleuse Chinoise = Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Dai Sijie, and published in 2000 in French and in English in 2001.
The novel, written by Dai Sijie, is about two teenage boys during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Luo, described as having "a genius for storytelling", and the unnamed narrator, "a fine musician". They are assigned to re-education through labor and are sen
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
One of the reasons why I join bookclubs is to encourage myself to read books I wouldn't normally read, to get me out of my comfort zone. And one of the hopes of any bookclub I think, for me at least, is to find a gem, a book that you had never wanted to read but, having read through coercion, have been spellbound by. This is that book. Descriptions of it that I'd read when it was first released had turned me off - it sounded boring - but with such low expectations I was so into this story that I ...more
Lars Jerlach
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an enchanting tale about the mysteries of love and the eternal wonders of literature. Two teenage boys get exiled for re-education to a remote mountainous village during China's infamous cultural revolution. There they get to know the young daughter of a local tailor and stumble across a suitcase filled with banned western literature. While they find solace in the forbidden words of western literature they open a new world of opportunity to the seamstress and find an emotive escape from ...more
Nenia ✨️ I yeet my books back and forth ✨️ Campbell

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I read BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS for the first time when I was a very young teenager. I applaud my mom for giving this to me because, like a fine wine, this book is easy to consume when young, but gets better for age. Under 200 pages, with spare prose and simple language, it's a short, easy read and goes by quickly, and it helps that the characters themselves are teenagers as well, even though this isn't a young adult book
Liz Janet
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
“I was carried away, swept along by the mighty stream of words pouring from the hundreds of pages. To me it was the ultimate book: once you had read it, neither your own life nor the world you lived in would ever look the same.”

I heard about this book via a classmate that said it was his favourite book. Blindly I said I would give it a shot, and when I saw it at a thrift store for very cheap I bought it, two days later I decided to read it and then died. I am so angry and glad at this book,
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding exercise in more than just the pals' re-education and awakening to adulthood. It deserves 5 stars in the skill to expose the different ironic dichotomies. And not only in this Chinese period. A stilted way to say that it makes both political and personal counter-revolutions. This is truly a think piece.

The more you know about the Red Guard, Cultural Revolution and subsequent civil liberties and personal choices of rural peasant or relocated for purpose Chinese- beyond the
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Based on a true story, this beautifully written little book is a testament to the struggle for intellectual freedom.
Written in a very descriptive , and living way, it tells of the story of two 17 year old boys in Mao's China who are among the millions of Chinese youth, forced to undergo 'Re-education' , a type of deathlike existance in China's re-education camps , carrying excrement up and down a mountain.

Their life is given meaning by their meeting up with a pretty , young seamstress , and the
Feb 12, 2008 rated it did not like it
I thought this would be great (well, the cover was beautiful and it did have Balzac in it) but I was really unimpressed by it. It was a story and nothing more. I can't figure out why it's selling like hot cakes. Oh well. ...more
May 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books
Beautifully written story about youth during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
In 1971 two Chinese teenagers who scrape into Chairman Mao’s category of “young intellectuals” for being the sons of medical professionals are banished to the western mountainous region for re-education through manual labor. (This was autobiographical for Sijie, a filmmaker who has lived in France since age 30.) For descendants of “enemies of the state,” the chances of making it back home are three in 1000.

The narrator and his friend Luo keep their sanity through their experiences of art: the na
Dec 11, 2016 rated it liked it
This novel is short, but it manages to cram in a lot of stuff about the daily life during the Cultural Revolution. Two bourgeois boys, Luo and the unnamed narrator, are sent to the countryside for their re-education. There, they toil in the fields and in the mines, and hope against hope that they would be the one of the three in a thousand to be sent back to the city despite their parents being 'enemies of the people'.

The story is not a linear one, and the narrative reads like excerpts from a bi
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2008
I chose this excerpt from the book because it seems to sum up the changes seen in the characters:

“Picture if you will, a boy of nineteen still slumbering in the limbo of adolescence, having heard nothing but revolutionary blather about patriotism, Communism, and ideology and propaganda all his life, falling headlong into a story of awakening desire, passion, impulsive action, love, of all the subjects that had, until then, been hidden from me”

There is a series of revolutions taking place through
Richard Derus
Oct 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Rating: 3.5* of five

This novel is a deep peer into the dark and turgid pool that the Cultural Revolution made of China for far, far too long.

Of course, I've moved my review to my blog so the Reavers can't get at it.
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
Set in 1971 during China's Cultural Revolution, this is the story of two teenage boys sent to be "re-educated" in a remote mountain village. I expected it to be a rather grim tale, but it wasn't. These city boys do suffer under the heavy workloads of the peasants, but they also find time to visit friends in other villages, one of whom is a teenage peasant girl known as the Little Seamstress, and another of whom is a city boy like themselves called Four-Eyes. When they discover that Four-Eyes has ...more
Isabel Alcuaz
Jun 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a book about two boys who are exiled to the country during China’s Cultural Revolution in order to be ‘re-educated’. There they spend their days doing menial but often dangerous work. They soon make the acquaintance of the tailor’s daughter living in the next village. When they find a secret stash of forbidden European texts translated in the Chinese language, it is with her they share them, in the hopes of making something else out of the mountain gir ...more
Skylar Burris
Sep 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
2.5 stars, really. I'm being generous. This was an easy (though hardly light) read. It was generally interesting, but I never grew to care deeply about the characters. The horror of the Cultural Revolution was not made especially real to me. The Little Seamstress herself was utterly underdeveloped. The dialogue was unrealistic: no one speaks in such a manner. There is an abrupt but brief shift in narration toward the end of the book, for no apparent reason; the fact that a particular event is to ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-novels
A charming, brief novel set in China during the cultural revolution. Two teenage boys are sent to a peasant village for re-education because of what their parents do. They have the sort of adventures teenage boys have; with an edge because of their situation. They also discover western literature through another boy being re-educated. Balzac, Dumas, Flaubert, Gogol; all nineteenth century authors. They also discover teenage love and obsession. There is a feeling of closeness to the earth and the ...more
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Spontaneous read of the week! Needed a little spritzer, and this was just the thing. . .

In a once-upon-a-time, in a-land-far-far-away , with two unnamed characters, one that is the narrator – ingredients for a settling in to a tale about friends, coming of age, and the hard facts of life. This was a thoughtful tale, saying while life’s not “fair” and consequences don’t always deliver a “happily ever after”, or an “off into the golden sunset,” you can coun
Wiebke (1book1review)
This was such a beautiful book. The writing is amazing, the story educated me about the re-education that took place in China after the Cultural Revolution, which I think is amazing in a novel that is all about education.

Reading and the things we learn from books and how important books are for our intellect and life in general is at the center of this novel. We see how the two main characters are longing for books and how they want to share the stories they read and also see on the big screen.
Nancy Oakes
Feb 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Set during the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong, the book is largely a story of the power of storytelling. T wo teenage boys have been sent to live in the country (their parents are class enemies) on a mountain known as Phoenix in the Sky. Told mostly from the point of view of one of the boys (although this changes toward the end), it is the story of how in the midst of carrying buckets filled with excrement on slippery trails, they find a stash of books owned by another bo ...more
This story is set in the communist China of early seventies where children of highly educated people were forcibly made to stay in peasant lands and be re educated (I. e. forget their modern education and go the way of ignorant peasants. The narrator and Lou are such teenage boys who bear the unfortunate cross of having doctor parents who are considered traitors to the country. In a country, high in the mountains, where other people seldom tread, they try to reconcile with their fate. Then they ...more
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
What a wonderful story. It is my second time reading it, and it just got even better. It reminded me of a recent novel I read: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Both books deal with the utter horrors of evil governments: the dictatorship of Trujillo in the Diaz novel and the excesses of Maoism in the Sijie novel. Sijie's story does it in a more subtle way. For example, when Luo goes to a "dentist," the wrong tooth is pulled out. That's because educated professionals were killed ...more
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Dai Sijie was born in China in 1954. He grew up working in his fathers tailor shop. He himself became a skilled tailor. The Maoist government sent him to a reeducation camp in rural Sichuan from 1971 to 1974, during the Cultural Revolution. After his return, he was able to complete high school and university, where he studied art history.

In 1984, he left China for France on a scholarship. There, h

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“I was carried away, swept along by the mighty stream of words pouring from the hundreds of pages. To me it was the ultimate book: once you had read it, neither your own life nor the world you lived in would ever look the same.” 74 likes
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