Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Dai Sijie (Adult Fiction)

It was in early 1971 when two “city youths”—ages 17 and 18—were banished to the mountain known as the Phoenix of the Sky.  Boyhood friends, they were to be re-educated as part of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China.  If they were fortunate, they would be reunited with their families after two years.  But they were not the offspring of average parents.  Instead, their parents—professional, respected, educated—were classed as enemies of the people, and their chances of release currently stood at three in a thousand.  So, the two spent their days laboring in the paddy fields, working in the mines, or carrying human and animal waste on their backs.  But one fateful day, their village headman sent them to the district of Yong Jing.  That journey would culminate with the princess of Phoenix Mountain, a miller, and an author named Honoré de Balzac.

Dai Sijie himself was re-educated and spent between 1971 to 1974 in the mountains of Sichuan Province.  His experiences undoubtedly gave this novel its authenticity, depth, and richness.  I knew very little of Mao Zedong’s 10-year movement to preserve Chinese Communism through the cultural eradication of capitalism and tradition.  Needless to say, the results were disastrous: economically, politically, and societally.  Sijie gives us a glimpse of the isolation, fear, and hysteria suffered by those who were sent away through the eyes of our 17-year old narrator (unnamed) and his 18-year friend, Luo.  When the two come across a hidden collection of translated Western classics, their worlds expand as they are introduced to the foreign feelings of lust, jealousy, revenge, and honor.  Matters are further complicated when they share these novels with the local tailor’s daughter, the Little Seamstress.

I truly enjoyed this book and found it as light and airy as a basting stitch.  It read like a well-crafted fable and the scenes were sewn together seamlessly.  It was a delightful read that reinforces the idea that the written word is often just as powerful suppressed as it is unleashed.  Albert Einstein said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  So is a lot.”  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress reminds us that once a book is opened, so is the mind and when the mind is opened, the heart takes flight.  Perhaps for this reason alone, there are still those in the world who wish books to remain closed.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com 

 

Top 10 Picks for 2018

The Dusty Jacket’s Top 10 Picks for 2018*

Adult Fiction/Biography

  1. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (reviewed March 2018)
  2. Little Bee by Chris Cleave (reviewed May 2018)
  3. Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (reviewed June 2018)
  4. The Invisible Wall (Biography) by Harry Bernstein (reviewed June 2018)
  5. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Biography) by Ishmael Beah (reviewed July 2018)
  6. The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott (reviewed July 2018)
  7. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (reviewed August 2018)
  8. The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness (Biography) by Joel ben Izzy (reviewed September 2018)
  9. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall (reviewed November 2018)
  10. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (reviewed November 2018)

Juvenile/Young Adult

  1. My Side of the Mountain (J) by Jean Craighead George (reviewed March 2018)
  2. The Devil’s Arithmetic (YA) by Jane Yolen (reviewed April 2018)
  3. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (J Biography) by Eleanor Coerr (reviewed April 2018)
  4. Island of the Blue Dolphins (J) by Scott O’Dell (reviewed April 2018)
  5. Homeless Bird (YA) by Gloria Whelan (reviewed May 2018)
  6. Fever 1793 (YA) by Laurie Halse Anderson (reviewed June 2018)
  7. The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs (J) by Betty G. Birney (reviewed August 2018)
  8. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (J) by Kate DiCamillo (reviewed August 2018)
  9. The Incredible Journey (J) by Sheila Burnford (reviewed November 2018)
  10. The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket (J) by John Boyne (reviewed November 2018)

 

*List contains selections reviewed in 2018

 

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop  

Nina George (Adult Fiction)

“As the grandmother, mother and girl said their good-byes and went on their way, Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books.  They look after people.”

From a single conversation, Monsieur Perdu can tell you what you need and what your soul lacks.  His father calls it transperception, the ability to see and hear through most people’s camouflage and detect all the things they worry and dream about.  He can transperceive just about anybody…except himself.  He spends his days operating a moored book barge called Literary Apothecary, where he prescribes books like medication to those who lack or seek confidence, hope, faith, or love.  His seemingly tranquil life is suddenly made turbulent when an unopened, twenty-year old letter, written by his ex-lover, is discovered.   Perdu suddenly finds himself on a journey to discover an author’s real identity, to seek forgiveness, and to find peace.

Like a rusty barge moored in port for a little too long, this book had a promising start, but then just sputtered and gasped along until the end of the book.  The details and descriptions that George provides of the ports along Paris and of the French countryside are vivid and meticulous; however, the story stalls mid-way through and just never seems to regain steam.  Reading this book was more like a job to finish rather than a journey to be enjoyed.  The Little Paris Bookshop was marketed as “a love letter to books”, but to readers, it feels more like a Dear John letter as we are left feeling forlorn and rather disappointed.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com