Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

A wise little story . . . a richly complex fable . . . like a beautifully tailored garment . . . poetic and affecting.

That’s what the reviews on the back of the book say, but I didn’t get it. I read this book on the recommendaton of Jane at Much Ado, and I, too liked the parts about the suitcase full of books and how the books enriched and transformed the lives of the people who read and heard the stories. However, the ending was beyond sad. I won’t give away the ending, but after that kind of self-imposed tragedy, how could any of the main characters in the novel ever experience joy again? The narrator says that he and his friend Luo have only a three in a thousand chance of escaping their Chinese Cultural Revolution re-education camp, but as the book ended, it felt as if they were doomed. Even if they did leave the village to which they were exiled, what would they do?

It just occurred to me: the ending to this book reminded me of the ending to Bee Season. Someone gives up the one thing that has brought joy to his/her life so that? What? To prove a point? What point?

For pointless fiction that’s beautifully written and hopeful along the way, I recommend both Bee Season and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. When you get through with either one, come back and tell me why they did it.

7 thoughts on “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

  1. jng

    Much of the YA/ children’s fictionfrom contemporary authors which I’ve read suffers from a similar plight. (I do not know the books cited.) I almost feel in some cases as if the author is writing simply for herself, to show what she can do. Whether she has something worthy to say or can form it suitably for a young audience is another matter.
    Fully formed characters, moral, confronting situations which tell the child more about the moral nature of the world: that was the unspoken rule for children’s writing at one time.

  2. I suppose I should have been more clear: the two books I mentioned are both adult fiction. Oherwise I agree with what you said, jng; in fact , your unspoken rule used to hold true for adult fiction as well. Think of the great VIctorian novelists, not didactic, but definitely presenting situations “which tell . . . more about the moral nature of the world.”

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  4. I just finished Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress over the weekend. I really enjoyed it and thought the setting and themes were interesting. But I hated the ending and am left wondering whether what I thought was the point of the book all along was really the point after all. (Hard to explain what I mean by that without giving away the ending!) Does the author view this particular transformation by literature as a good thing, or not?

  5. brittani rhodes

    i just finished reading Balzac, and like most of the comments, i was disappointed with the ending.
    to answer the question as to why Luo and Ma did what they did at the end, from what i understand, is because the thing they loved (the books) ended up taking away the person they love.
    The books were the reason for the leaving. so they were mad. thats what i got from it.

  6. Good evening,
    I ended on you blog because I have been of looking for explanationsmor the meaning of “three in a thousand” and I would like to thank you for your opinion in this sense.
    I don’t feel that the ending is so terrible because TLCS managed to get away from her limited opportunities and and for us the reader to become aware that real love also means to let go is just beautiful!
    Thanks Martina

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