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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress | [Dai Sijie]

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

From within the hopelessness and terror of China's Cultural Revolution, Dai Sijie has fashioned a beguiling and unexpected story about the resilience of the human spirit, the wonder of romantic awakening, and the magical power of storytelling. "An unexpected miracle," raves the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "a delicate, and often hilarious, tale."
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Publisher's Summary

At the height of Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution, two boys are among hundreds of thousands exiled to the countryside for "re-education." The narrator and his best friend, Luo, guilty of being the sons of doctors, find themselves in a remote village where, among the peasants of the Phoenix mountains, they are made to cart buckets of excrement up and down the precipitous winding paths. Their meager distractions include a violin - and, before long, the beautiful daughter of the local tailor.

But it is when the two discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation that their re-education takes its most surprising turn. While ingeniously concealing their forbidden treasure, the boys find transit to worlds they had thought lost forever. And after listening to their dangerously seductive retellings of Balzac, even the Little Seamstress will be forever transformed.

From within the hopelessness and terror of one of the darkest passages in human history, Dai Sijie has fashioned a beguiling and unexpected story about the resilience of the human spirit, the wonder of romantic awakening, and the magical power of storytelling.

©2001 Dai Sijie; (P)2002 Random House Inc., Random House Audio, a Division of Random House Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • Book Sense Book of the Year Award Finalist, Paperback, 2003

"An unexpected miracle - a delicate, and often hilarious, tale." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
"A funny, touching, sly and altogether delightful novel...about the power of art to enlarge our imaginations." (Washington Post Book World)
"Poetic and affecting...riveting." (New York Times Book Review)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (324 )
5 star
 (86)
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 (124)
3 star
 (78)
2 star
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1 star
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Overall
3.7 (80 )
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Story
3.9 (77 )
5 star
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4 star
 (35)
3 star
 (12)
2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Yicheng Phoenix, AZ, USA 03-14-03
    Yicheng Phoenix, AZ, USA 03-14-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
    171
    ratings
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    21
    21
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    3
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    Overall
    "Excellent!"

    An excellent tale of the Cultural Revolution and one boy's awakening to manhood. Stories that I've heard from my parents and the older generation found their echo in this story. A time period like the Cultural Revolution was so charged of emotional energy that I think it took this long for most chinese people to begin address what has happened since then.

    A note about the ending, it is a chinese story after all. Every ending begets another beginning.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kelli Birmingham, AL, United States 02-27-03
    Kelli Birmingham, AL, United States 02-27-03 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
    25
    ratings
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    61
    10
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    0
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    Overall
    "Culture Shock"

    What a wonderfully enlightening (and slightly shocking) introduction to Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution in China during the 1970's. I had never studied nor read books about this historical period so this story turned out to be both entertaining and educational for me. The narrator was effective and the story flowed seamlessly to a somewhat quick conclusion. I listened to the book on a road trip and I was rather disappointed to see the book end when I still had many questions left unanswered. I recommend this story to the listener seeking cultural diversity and historical perspective.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Merav Long Beach, NY, USA 03-20-03
    Merav Long Beach, NY, USA 03-20-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
    ratings
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    1
    1
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    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Valued Treasure"

    Fine writing and a good authentic story.
    I truly enjoyed this quality book and the excellent reading by the talented narrator. This audio book is a true treasure and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cindy LAGUNA BEACH, CA, United States 04-07-05
    Cindy LAGUNA BEACH, CA, United States 04-07-05 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
    72
    ratings
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    647
    58
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    3
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    Overall
    "Wonderful!"

    This is a lovely story, with fantastic narration by B.D. Wong. I've listened to it several time, and enjoyed it again and again.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carin CHARLOTTE, NC, United States 11-17-11
    Carin CHARLOTTE, NC, United States 11-17-11 Listener Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    39
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    20
    16
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    3
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    Story
    "I finally understand The Cultural Revolution."

    I have long heard good things about Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, and I really liked it.

    I thought the choice of B. D. Wong as narrator was interesting as he's Chinese-American, but of course on an audiobook, you don't see the narrator so there's no reason to have found someone of the appropriate ethnicity (particularly as he doesn't have an accent, and presumably - although I haven't researched - English is his first language.) But I liked that detail as I did picture him as the main character.

    Our hero and his friend Luo have been sent out to a rural village during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to learn how to appreciate the proletariat. They are subjected to demeaning, backbreaking work, but all the boredom and stress melts away when they discover the beautiful daughter of the region's tailor, and a stash of translated Western novels.

    The novel was very evocative. I found myself physically recoiling at some very accurate imagery more than once, as I was out walking. I would make faces, clench up, and sometimes even try to move out of the way, as the descriptions were so visceral that they seemed real. B. D. Wong was good at giving the different characters different voices, and I never was confused about who was speaking. With the Chinese names, I was a little glad to have someone else pronouncing them instead of me guessing, although many of the characters didn't even have names, but nicknames, like "Four Eyes," the owner of the illegal novels.

    Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was a romantic, delicate story that opened my eyes to the Cultural Revolution (I had heard it referenced before but never understood what it was.) A fine gem, the book has moments of humor, fancy, danger, and passion.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 06-01-09
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 06-01-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    365
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    113
    86
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    55
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    Overall
    "Sweet Little Book"

    A short story about two adolescent boys sent to the hinter lands for "reeducation" during China's cultural revolution. The story is interesting in terms of the insights it gives about China during this time and the impact reeducation had for these young boys when sent away from their families. You learn, for example, that boys are boys anywhere on earth (ditto for small town people). The story is very easy to listen to and well written. Ultimately, I compared it to cotton candy - sweet and fun, but leaving you hungry with not a lot of substance.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rick williamsburg va 05-06-04
    Rick williamsburg va 05-06-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    1
    1
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    0
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    Overall
    "A great Tale sewn into real Chinese History"

    This is a great story set in an era when China was killing off its intellectuals and imprisioning their children. A story that reveals a whole new world to one character and gives hope for a future.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephanie Cayce, SC, USA 12-31-03
    Stephanie Cayce, SC, USA 12-31-03 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
    168
    ratings
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    568
    59
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    3
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    Overall
    "Great"

    The narration for this story is excellent - BD Wong does a superior job. The story itself starts out a little shaky, but ends up being a fantastic story. It is the story of the "re-education" of youths during the 1970's under the rule of Mao Tse-tung. This book really shows the midset of the country at the time and the plot is truly a great one.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Geraldine Memphis, TN, USA 12-16-03
    Geraldine Memphis, TN, USA 12-16-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Balzac and the Little Chinese Mistress"

    This is perfect book. The story is fascinating, the characters approachable, and the text is well crafted. Most of all it is a colorful, enchanting picture of life in China during the Cultural Revolution, an event that I knew formerly only through the dry faacts of history.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sharron Robinvale, Australia 06-18-13
    Sharron Robinvale, Australia 06-18-13 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    20
    ratings
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    99
    27
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    5
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    "Great little read"

    Two city boys are sent into the country for re-education. Set in China in 1970's when Mao was the ruler. I really enjoyed the narration.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 24 results PREVIOUS123NEXT
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  • Rowan
    Wales
    11/19/10
    Overall
    "I adored this book"

    I adored this book from start to finish. I am holding off listening to it a second time for now but I know I won't wait for long. A truelly wonderful story of forbidden beauty.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Rowan
    pembroke dock, United Kingdom
    11/22/10
    Overall
    "Brilliant"

    Id looked at getting this book all year but always went for something a little more bulky to fill my day but eventually gave in to its pretty little cover and title and im glad I did. While the cover is pretty the book is beautiful. Iv bought a couple paperbacks for gifts this christmas.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Stephen
    Rowlands Gill,, United Kingdom
    6/28/08
    Overall
    "The age still to come....."

    A generation of Chinese writers, artists and film-makers are growing up and finding a home in the minds, sensitivities and subsidies of the French cultural machine. Dai Sijie's novel must be read as essentially the screenplay to his 2002 film 'Xiao cai feng.' Where the film gives us the stunning landscapes of Northern China, it falls someway short of the book in developing the characters of Ma and Luo.
    Still a mile behind Ha Jin and Won Kar Wei - we wait to see the next output of Dai Sijie and hope that it comes quickly to audio.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-3 of 3 results

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