Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

I have long heard good things about Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, and since I prefer shorter (unabridged) audiobooks, this seemed to fit the bill. And I really liked it. But I'm going to stop trying fiction on audio.

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.

Once I was listening I had no troubles with getting into the story, even when a week went between listenings, but I never wanted to pick it back up and had to force myself each time. I never have that problem with nonfiction. I know I am the opposite of what most people like in audiobooks, but I think I will stick to nonfiction from here on, and stop trying to force myself to learn to love fiction audios. They just aren't for me.

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.

This review is a part of the AudioSynced roundup hosted this month at Stacked.


B said...

I loved this book! I've been itching to read Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch, also by Sijie.

Emidy @ Une Parole said...

Interesting book! I'd love to read this sometime. Glad you liked it!

Laura Kozy Lanik said...

I loved this book. I read it aloud to my 9th grade world history class years ago. I remember gagging at a few parts. There is a movie that I remember showing as well.

Carin Siegfried said...

I had no idea there was a movie! I'll have to keep an eye out for that. Yep, some parts were gross. I was very glad I was not trying to read the book while eating!

BookQuoter said...

Great review. I will be putting this on my list. It sounds good.

Jamie said...

I have this sitting on my bookshelf. This may just be what I'm reading next because of your review!

Teacher/Learner said...

I loved it as well. It's always a joy to read about a love of reading in a novel like this. If you're interested, I've written a review of this book as well.