Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress

Another book club book! During the cultural revolution, two young men are sent to a rural village for re-education. There, they manage to get hold of some Chinese translations of several classics of French literature by Dumas, Balzac and others. They mesmerize villagers re-telling the tale, and one of them is the "Little Seamstress" of the title. The books, ironically I'm sure I'm to feel, bring some degree of freedom to everyone but the young men who first find them.

Phew.... I can only attribute the fuss over this book to people who read it in its original language, or maybe I just don't "get" Chinese literature. I didn't much like Waiting by Ha Jin either, and that was a widely acclaimed book. At least Waiting had characters who felt at least somewhat fleshed out. I felt the characters in this book were quite flat, with the "Little Seamstress" the least fleshed out of the bunch. The book was more like a series of vignettes than a story that hung together, and I didn't feel like any of the characters, even the narrator, rose above sketches of personality types. As for the Little Seamstress; people may see her as strong, but she felt more like a male fantasy icon to me - the intelligent, yet untutored and untamed peasant girl who is sexually pliant to her intellectually "superior" male, yet who will run away from her tutor as soon as she gets a veneer of polish, in search of greater accomplishment. I didn't hate this book, but I didn't particularly like it either.

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