Tag Archives: China

Dai Sijie – Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2000)

BalzacIts been said in other reviews, but I’ll say it again, this book is a charming read. It is so astute and so beautifully written; I was caught of guard by how enthralled I was in this seemingly short and simple tale.

The story takes place in the Chinese countryside and follows two city youths, the unnamed narrator and his best friend Luo, being “reeducated” in a mountain village. It is here that the two boys meet the Little Seamstress, daughter of the renowned and highly regarded Tailor. When visiting Four Eyes, another boy sent to the countryside to be reeducated, the two boys stumble upon a suitcase hiding forbidden Western literature. After stealing the suitcase Luo uses the forbidden literature to “culture” the little seamstress and wins her over with his storytelling ability.

The narrative flows so well and provides a unique snapshot of a really interesting time. While reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang introduced me to the process of reeducation and the Cultural Revolution, Sijie made it the propelling force of his story. I loved, what I saw at the underlying message in this tale, that no matter what the consequences the desire and love of a good book is something that cannot be sated. My only complaint is that it was too short.

Rating: 4.5/5

Amy Tan – The Valley of Amazement (2013)

ValleyofAmazementFrom one of my favourite authors comes this beautifully spun tale about the relationship between mothers and daughters. The Joy Luck Club, also by Amy Tan, deals with similar themes regarding the relationship between mothers and daughters in both China and the United States. The Valley of Amazement is similar but is a singular approach to the subject looking at one family and their struggles.

The story opens in 1912 where Violet Minturn, a 12-year-old half Chinese and half American girl living in a Courtesan House run by her mother in Shanghai. Violet is stolen from her mother by a cruel bout of trickery and is forced to become a virgin courtesan. Through the support of former courtesan and trusted friend, Magic Gourd, Violet becomes respected in Shanghai and is able to survive, and even thrive in her new surroundings. After having her own daughter taken from her, Violet vows to do anything to get her back setting her off on a new path.

Tan spans fifty years and takes the reader from the dazzling courtesan houses of Shanghai, a stifling house in San Francisco, to the back woods and hidden villages of China’s countryside telling a deeply moving narrative of tragedy, loss, and love. Told with humor and grace, Tan’s novel truly is a work of art.