Tag-Archive for ◊ Dai Sijie ◊

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• Saturday, June 18th, 2016

Dai Sijie was born in the Fujian province of China in 1954. Both his parents were professors of medical sciences at West China University. Dai Sijie went to primary school followed by college. At the beginning of the Chinese cultural revolution, orchestrated in May 1966 by the seventy-three- year-old Mao Zedong, Seijie’s parents were labelled as “bourgeois”, therefore enemies of the people and were put in prison.

Being the son of a “bourgeois”, the seventeen-year-old Seijie, was sent to a village in the mountains of Sichuan province for re-education from 1971 to 1974. In 1974 he worked as an employee in a school and in 1976 studied History Of Art at Beijing university while simultaneously studying French. He left China for France in 1984, having won a national competition allowing students to travel abroad. After his time was over, he didn’t return to China and has remained in France ever since, working as a film maker and subsequently becoming a writer.

Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress is Dai Sijie’s first novel and a big instant success. It was written in French, like his two other novels, and was published in France in 2000. It won many prizes and has been translated into several languages. Sijie re-adapted his novel to become a film which he directed and was released in 2002.

The story of Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress is influenced by what the author himself lived and experienced in his late teens like his two fictional characters: the narrator and his close friend, Luo, who both come from families of doctors. The two protagonists, like Sijie, had an academic education, went to primary school and to college and therefore had bourgeois upbringings and consequently qualified, according to the new Chinese regime, to be sent to a remote mountain village camp to be re-educated from 1971 to 1976.

Mao Zedong’s policy was to send millions of intellectuals to the countryside for re-education in the form of physical labour meted out to them by peasants. Mao’s intention was to purge the representatives of the capitalist urban bourgeoisie as well as the revisionists who had infiltrated the Party, both regarded as enemies of the people. He even closed schools and universities for several years, accusing them of being places of counter-revolutionary education.

Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party Chairman, was the actual architect of the Great Cultural Revolution which started in 1966 and ended in 1976, the year of his demise. Although born a son of a wealthy farmer, Mao Zedong was the founding member of the communist party of China and became the “Great Helmsman Of The Revolution”.

The Great Cultural Revolution period is one of the most sombre and traumatic in Chinese contemporary history. It was enforced after Mao Zedong’s failure with his economic and social campaign named “the great leap forward”, which was an ambitious country-wide modernization policy that lasted from 1959 to 1961 and resulted in terrible famine.

The narrator and his friend, Luo, find their new life and repetitive tasks given to them by the peasants to be very harsh. Thanks to their captivating art of story telling they manage to escape a few days of hard labour in the mines. The two youths are sent by their superior to the next village where films are occasionally shown. Their assignment is that, upon their return, they must narrate the story of the film to the villagers who are illiterate people leading a simple life in this remote mountainous area near Tibet, called: “Phoenix Of The Sky”.

The narrator and his best friend Luo’s story-telling improve greatly and their horizon widens when they discover a hoard of forbidden “reactionary” western classic novels translated into Chinese. These include books by Balzac, Dickens, Dumas, Hugo and Flaubert, among others, concealed in a suitcase by an educated young man their own age called Four-Eyes, the son of a poet, sent for re-education in the village next to theirs. After pleading with Four-Eyes, they manage to borrow one of his novels, Balzac’s, Ursule Mirouët. They both spend the whole night reading it and finish it by dawn. The two young men are so overwhelmed by Balzac’s story that they strongly desire to possess Four-Eyes novels and they end up stealing them.

From now on Luo, the narrator and their beautiful, illiterate, young seamstress’s lives will radically change as a result of their literary discovery which overturns their existence and opens up a new, magical world for them. They feel the emergence of a literary vocation. There is no longer a barrier between fiction and reality for them. The little seamstress becomes Luo’s lover-cum-student and he becomes her Pygmalion. He introduces her to the world of literature not realising that the effect will be devastating for him and the narrator, who both loved her so dearly and looked after her like a “little princess”.

After listening to all the stories written by famous classic writers narrated to her by the two young men, Luo tells the narrator that the little seamstress’s new obsession is to resemble city girls, she cuts her hair and make herself a bra, copying a drawing she had found in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Luo even notices that she is copying their accent.

Learning from Balzac “that a woman’s beauty is a treasure beyond price”, the little seamstress makes a surprising choice. She decides to leave her rural life and everything else behind for the big city life in order to conquer her destiny, like Balzac’s character, Eugène de Rastignac in “La comèdie humaine”. Her decision leads to the surreal and eerie final scene of the book-burning by the narrator and Luo out of spite and rancour. These books they loved so much have to be sacrificed, reduced to cinders, now that they have the nasty effect of emancipating the little seamstress and making her quit after discovering her self-worth.

Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress is a book about books, an ode to literature and especially a tribute to Balzac, as well as to the art of story telling and how the talented story tellers possess the know-how to captivate their audience. Dai Sijie is a good narrator and at the same time his characters are talented story tellers.

It is a novel about literary novels and their power of enchantment. It is about the emergence of literary vocation and how books can be a good education for life. The story illustrates the mysterious strength of fiction as a liberator of the mind and how reading can change people’s lifestyle and enrich it. A novel with outstanding themes that mixes serious subjects with humorous ones with great skill.

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Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment
Author:
• Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Here is a list of the books we have read and reviewed and will be reviewing in the coming months at the UNWG Book Club:

2003
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Human Stain by Philipp Roth

2004
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Youth & The End Of The Tether by Joseph Conrad
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
Samarkand by Amin Maalouf
Portrait In Sepia by Isabel Allende
Youth by John Coetzee

2005
Waiting by Ha Jin
Silk by Alessandro Baricco
Notes From The Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia
Crabwalk by Günter Grass
The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath
The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

2006
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Fear And Trembling by Amelie Nothomb
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher
The Palace Tiger by Barbara Cleverly
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Buddha Of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

2007
The Bookseller Of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Embers by Sandor Marai
Palace Of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz
I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti
One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In The Country Of Men by Hisham Matar
The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

2008
Staying On by Paul Scott
The Swallows Of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
The Cairo House by Samia Serageldin
Keeping The World Away by Margaret Forster
The Speed Of Light by Javier Cercas
The Lady On My Left by Catherine Cookson
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
An Old Fashioned Arrangement by Susie Vereker
Tears Of The Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

2009
The Miniaturist by Kunal Basu
Mothers And Sons by Colm Toibin
The Blood Of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor
The Agüero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks
Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adiche
That Summer In Paris by Abha Dawesar
The Island by Victoria Hislop

2010
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Mission Song by John le Carré
The Conjuror’s Bird by Martin Davies
The Sea by John Banville
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
26a by Diana Evans
The Road Home by Rose Tremain

2011
Desert by Le Clézio
Any Place I Hang My Hat by Susan Isaacs
Rules of The Wild by Francesca Marciano
My Name is Salma by Fadia Faqir
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Nadirs by Herta Müller
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa El Aswany
Crow Stone by Jenni Mills

2012
The Other Hand (UK print) or Little Bee (USA print) by Chris Cleave. (Two different titles for the same novel depending on where you buy it).
The Siege by Ismail Kadare.
The Loner by Josephine Cox.
Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann.
Okei by Mitsugu Saotome.
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett / La couleur des sentiments / Gute Geister.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga / Le tigre blanc / Der Weisse Tiger.
My Father’s Notebook by Kader Abdolah / Cunéiforme / Die Geheime Schrift.

2013
The Last Station by Jay Parini / Une année dans la vie de Tolstoi / Tolstojs Letztes Jahr.
The Invisible City by Emili Rosales / La ville invisible / Tiepolo und die Unsichtbare Stadt.
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod / La perte et le fracas.
Illuminations by Eva Hoffman.
Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher / Oasis du couchant / Sonnenuntergangs Oase.
Ignorance by Milan Kundera / L’ignorance / Die Unwissenheit.
Light of the Moon by Luanne Rice.
Softcore by Tirdad Zolghadr.
The Musician’s Daughter by Susanne Dunlap.

2014
Honour by Elif Shafak / Crime D’honneur.
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes / Des fleurs pour Algernon.
Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye / Trois femmes puissantes.
Firmin by Sam Savage.
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle / Embrouille en Provence.
The Year Of The Hare by Arto Paasilinna / Le lièvre de Vatanen.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain / Madame Hemingway.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen / Amours et autres enchantements.
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh / Lignes d’ombres.

2015
The Map Of Love by Ahdaf Soueif / Lady Pacha.
The Secret History Of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez / Histoire secrète du Costaguana.
Night Train To Lisbon by Pascal Mercier / Train de nuit pour Lisbonne.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell / Cette main qui a pris la mienne.
The Way To Paradise by Mario Vargas Liosa / Le Paradis-un peu plus loin.
The Sweetest Dream by Doris Lessing / Le rêve le plus doux de Doris Lessing.
The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker / Le détour de Gerbrand Bakker.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson / La dernière conquête du major Pettigrew de Helen Simonson.

2016
Coastliners by Joanne Harris / Voleurs de plage.
The Rock Of Tanios by Amin Maalouf / Le rocher de Tanios.
The Heart Of A Dog by Mikhail Boulgakov / Coeur de chien.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin / La saison des mangues introuvables.
The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes / Une fille, qui danse.
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie / Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi / Le ravissement des innocents.
Accabadora by Michela Murgia.
Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson / Hanna et ses filles.

2017
Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell / Epouser Mozart: Le roman des soeurs.
Please Look After Mother by Shin Kyung-Sook / Prends soin de maman.
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie / Kartographie.
All The Names by José Saramago / Tous les noms.
In The Skin Of A Lion by Michael Ondaatje / La peau d’un lion.
Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras.
Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson / Dans les coulisses du musée.
The Little Paris Bookshop By Nina George / La lettre oubliée.
The Masterpiece by Anna Enquist / Le chef-d’oeuvre.

2018
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke.
How It All Began by Penelope Lively.
The Heart Has Its Reasons by Maria Duenas / Demain à Santa Cecilia.
The Violinist Of Venice by Alyssa Palombo.
The Woman On The Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford.
The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami / Les années douces.
The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson / L’analphabète qui savait compter.
A Piece Of The World by Christina Baker Kline.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan / Le club de la chance.

2019
Luncheon Of The Boating Party By Susan Vreeland.
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land. / Le sang du monstre.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles / Un gentleman à Moscou.
When The Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke.
Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese.
A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman / La vie selon Ove.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey / La fille de l’hiver.
The Last Song Of Dusk by Siddarth Dhanvant Shanghvi / La fille qui marchait sur l’eau.
Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf / Léon l’Africain.

2020
The Library Of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard / La librairie des ombres.
The Memory Shop by Ella Griffin / La boutique des petits trésors.
The Master Of The Prado by Javier Sierra / Le maître du Prado.
The Good Husband Of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith / Les larmes de la girafe.
The Bondmaid by Catherine Lim / La maîtresse de jade.
Ties by Domenico Starnone / Les liens.

2021
Together Tea by Marjan Kamali.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami / La ballade de l’impossible de Haruki Murakami.
The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami / La brocante Nakano.
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck / La terre chinoise de Pearl S. Buck.
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell / Hamnet de Maggie O’Farrell.
Pavilion Of Women by Pearl S. Buck / Pavillon des femmes de Pearl S. Buck.

2022
Slowness by Milan Kundera / La Lenteur de Milan Kundera.
Love In Exile by Ayse Kulin.
The Secret Life Of Book Club by Heather Woodhaven.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith / De la beauté de Zadie Smith.
The Little French Bistro by Nina George.
The Palace Of Dreams by Ismail Kadare / Le palais des rêves de Ismail Kadare.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones.
The Enchantress by Han Suiyn.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

 

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