Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


I think this is my week of banned books/authors. I started with Taslima Nasrin’s Shame which is banned in Bangladesh. And then I moved on to this book by Dai Sijie, which I later read is banned in China! It was originally written in French and then in English. It has been translated in 25 languages but not in Chinese. After reading the book, I could understand why though. Now I am reading East/West by Salman Rushdie. The book in itself is not controversial… but we all know about the author!:) Well, it wasn’t planned I tell you. I just realized that when I started writing this review. Well, I realized this and then I went to Natasha’s blog to get the link of her review to add it to this post and guess what I saw? She had mentioned that Sept 27th to Oct 4th was Banned Book Week sponsored by American Library Association. Hmm.. maybe I should have just waited for that. I just read all the banned books I had!

Anyways, getting to the book now:

I knew I was going to pick this book up the minute I read the review on Natasha’s blog. The cover totally totally appealed to me… I don’t know why though. A simple pair of old shoes with quaint looking buckles. But there was something about the picture that made me feel that the book might be a good read and I wasn’t disappointed.

Balzac and the little Chinese Seamstress is a semi-autobiographical novel. Like most kids from educated middle class families, Dai was also sent to rural china for “Re-education”. This was during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I guess during the revolution, schools and colleges were shut down and any child having intellectual parents was sent to the villages to live the life of peasants and learn from them. Similarly, in the book, the narrator and his friend Luo are sent to a village near a fictional mountain called “phoenix of the sky” for re-education. There, they meet a pretty little girl – the tailor’s daughter and hence, she is called the little seamstress. Luo and the little seamstress soon fall in love but it seem pretty obvious throughout the book that the narrator himself was in love with her though he never openly admits it. During this period, no one is allowed to read or own any other book apart from the little red book of sayings written by Chairman Mao. Luo and the narrator come by some translations of classic english novels and reading those books turns out to be a life changing experience for them and the little seamstress. I can’t imagine having a restriction on my reading! That would be the worst thing ever.

The novel was pretty humorous in many areas. I loved the story of the alarm clock. Luo and the narrator bring with them a little rooster alarm clock. A clock is an unknown item in the village and soon, it assumes the position of an idol. Little anecdotes about the alarm clock and the story telling prowess of Luo and the narrator lighten the mood of the book. What could have been a rather heavy book about oppression of freedom during Mao’s rule becomes light and easy to read.

I really think that this was a charming book. If you ever get a chance, do pick this book up! I guess there is a movie that’s based on this book that came out in 2002. I am planning to watch that one as well.

Here’s a link to Natasha’s review that made me want to read this book - Natasha.

If you have read this one as well, please do leave me a link in the comments section and I’ll add it to my post!

 

26 comments:

Violet said...

I have Lajja by Talima Nasrin on my TBR list. Is it the same book by any chance? Well, it means the same anyway.

Ramya said...

hey violet.. yeah.. it is the same book! i think it just has two names. so do read it quick and let me know what you thought of it:)

Laxmi Karumbu said...

Hi Ramya - now I know when banned book week is :) I'm sure my reading has nothing to do with the blog link lol :-) With a 4 year old every time i pick up a book (either she wants it or I have to read her one of hers) so you can imagine why i never finish a book .
It's so unlike me who used to sit stuck to a spot till I finished a book, in spite of mom calling me to eat or something.I love your reviews and your blog has matured so much over the years, it shows me that I can look back on it years later..

bermudaonion said...

That book is on my wish list, so I'm glad you liked it.

Pratima said...

Now your review is making me want to read this book! :) Added on to my list. Have you read Tehmina Durrani's My Feudal Lord? It's somewhat on the similar lines - controversial/banned books..

BTW, I have created a new book blog..to track all my book reviews. Do visit the page and bookmark it..will be posting reviews here henceforth!http://reading-adventures.blogspot.com

Ramya said...

@laxmi - i wonder how you manage to get ANY reading done at all! some of my friends here have a 4 yr old and that's more than one full time job in itself! Thanks so much for your compliment..:)

@bermudaonion - you should read it.. it was such a fun book to read and it didnt take long at all!

@pratima - thanks for the link to your new blog..shall definitely bookmark it and visit it regularly! happy blogging and reviewing!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

What a relief! I get so worried when somebody actually reads a book that I recommend. So glad that you liked it.

bethany said...

I love your new look, I just changed my colours on my blog...it seems that with each new season I change it a little. yours is beautiful.

I have this book and have been thinking about reading it soon!!

softdrink said...

I love the new look!

I read this book a few years ago, before I started my blog. I know I liked it, but I don't remember much beyond that.

Ramya said...

@bethany - that's quite a cool idea.. we'll know the season's changing by looking at your blog!:) i love that!!:)

@softdrink - you are quick!:) welcome to the new location.. and thanks.. i am beginning to think that this is a nice look!:)

softdrink said...

You timed your post perfectly...I was updating both my sidebar and my google reader. I especially like the header...I'm a sucker for pictures of books.

Ramya said...

that's awesome.. i am glad i caught you at the right time.

Pratima said...

hey this is a cool template!! I loved it - especially the tabs on the header bar. How did u get that?! can i copy the idea?!! :)

Sandra said...

I found you. What a different look, but nice. I really like your header. Thanks for letting me know about the move.

bermudaonion said...

I changed your URL in my Google Reader.

Red lady-Bonnie said...

Ramya,

Thanks for letting me know about your blog move. I really like your new template!

tanabata said...

I really enjoyed this when I read it a few years ago. I love the cover too!

Ramya said...

@sandra! thanks for visiting me here as well!:) i am glad i found that image!:) go google!:))

@pratima - i just googled html code for tabs for blogger.. i got quite a few hits.. just went into the first site and picked the code up.. didnt take too long actually.. let me know if you need it and i'll email you the site link!

@bermudaonion - thanks! i glad all of you found your way here!:))

@bonnie! - thanks!

@tanabata - yeah.. there's something so different and nice about the book.. i can't exactly point out what it is.. but i really liked it.. and it was the cover that attracted me to the book in the first place!:)

Trish said...

I have recently put this on my list and now you've definitely confirmed my decision to do so!! Thanks for the great review, Ramya.

Dar said...

I've never heard of this book but will definitely check into it now. I too am completely taken with the book cover.

Corinne said...

Ramya! I just popped over here from Trish's blog - I like your new look!

I just read Balzac etc and reviewed it here
http://corinnesbookreviews.blogspot.com/2008/08/balzac-and-little-chinese-seamstress-by.html

I really liked it too :)

Ramya said...

@trish- yeah.. read it.. it is soo different from the other books.. there's something appealing about this...

@dar - the cover is very attractive, isn't it???:) if i ever write a book, i ould love to have a quaint and interesting cover like this!:)

@corinne - welcome to the new location!:) and thanks for the link to your review.. will add it to my post immediately!:)

Anna said...

This book sounds interesting. When you mentioned that all books except Mao's sayings were banned, I wasn't expecting you to say there was humor, too. Maybe I'll pick this one up when the stack of books to review shrinks. (What am I saying? Is that even a possibility?)

--Anna
http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com

Ramya said...

i think that's the best part about this book.. it brings out the sad state of affairs.. but in a very light way.. the book talks about the whole re-education process.. the banning of books.. etc etc..but yet, you don't feel heavy when you put the book down.. that's pretty amazing!:)

literatehousewife said...

This book has on my radar now for quite some time. Thank you for your review and for pointing out Natasha's. I'm definitely going to pick this up the next time I can get a good deal.

Ramya said...

@literate housewife - welcome to my blog! this is definitely a nice book and you should read it when you get a chance.. its quite quaint and has a charm in its own way! would love to read your views once you are done with it..:)