Sunday, December 28, 2008

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Recently I've been enjoying two very different books by two, I'd imagine, very different Chinese writers. Though both, in their own way, political in a more or less circuitously order. One slightly more poetic than the other and that's the one I'm going to write a few words on now.

"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" is a little gem of a story - that for some odd reason hasn't been translated into Swedish, which is such a pity for Swedes who can't or don't want to read it in English - is set in the early 1970ies and about two teenage sons of academics who are banished to a village in the middle of the Chinese nowhere during the Cultural Revolution.

Though gruesome circumstances the boys find friendship, love (both for books and the little seamstress) and magic. Despite the subject revolving around life's hardship this easy, yet by no means simple, read of a novel manages to both beautifully paint, with carefully chosen words, a most vivid description of nature itself as well as the human - very far from always appealing - equivalence.

Amidst all this dirt and darkness caused by the human mind and body there is humour and just because someone has already written exactly what I'd like to say about this book I will now shamelessly steal/quote a few words from The Boston Globe review on the back cover of the book - "... a glimpse in to that dark place where the human spirit continued, against all odds, to shine its light". Well, some spirit and some light for and by at least some.

At first I did find the ending slightly disappointing and ignominous, but when pondering a bit more about it that ending just gives food for thought instead of completely string it together. And sometimes that can be the best of endings.

The exquisite cover design (of my version of the book) match the words within beautifully. Needless to say, this book, originally written in French, by Dai Sijie, is a highly recommended read, both for the story told and the writing.

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