Being Asian American, the name Mao Zedong is very popular among my group of friends and family. I knew what Mao did, and I knew how to use him as a joke, but I never really got in depth of his life and his affect on China. Seeing that the setting of this book, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, takes place during Mao’s rule, I decided to fill my contextual pool a little more.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress tells the tale of two teenage boys, Luo and and the unnamed narrator, who are sent to an isolated mountain to become “re-educated”. “Re-education” meant that the boys had to live like simple villagers to forget their luxurious lives as children of dentists and doctors. Unfortunately, the boys, going through their rebellious phase, resist the education by engulfing into the stolen fantasized stories of western authors, which included Balzac. The book follows the boys relationship with the village seamstress and how the books affect all their lives.
The story is interesting, but in many parts I couldn’t understand the narrator's logic or simply the way it was written. I like books where you can draw lines between each part of the story and have a picture at the end. Unfortunately, for this story I felt like I ended up with a triangle with several dots around it. The book itself is quite short, and I’m the type of guy that needs to know everything. Besides the lack of context, there are two more aspects of the book that just don’t sit well with me.
One of the biggest problems I had was the story was that I couldn’t connect with the characters. They live in a different time period, a different country, a different situation, and oh, they also like poetry. The things that the characters would do for a book seemed reckless and irrational. But it turns out that there’s a large difference between how strict being re-educated seemed, and how it actually is. Throughout the story, the village elder, the guy in charge of making sure they stick to traditional simple peasant morals, allowed them to go back to the city to watch a movie, and then act it out for all the other village citizens. I thought the point of re-education was for people to get away from the arts.
One small thing, the book is translated from french, so the language in the written version is a little plain. But just because it’s plain, doesn’t mean it’s bad. The language is quite poetic, but a little off at some points.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress does have quite an interesting story, but the way it was carried out and focused just didn’t give me the full reading experience. Of course I’m simply an 16 year old who never written a book review in his life before, so read the book yourself and make your own opinion