Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie

Vladamir Nabokov once noted that "life not unfrequently imitates the French novelists." Dai Sijie applies this dictum to the unlikeliest of settings: 1970s China. His first novel tells the tale of two Chinese teens who discover the forbidden pleasures of reading (and retelling) French novels deep in the Chinese countryside during Mao's Cultural Revolution.

Dai's novel received a warm reception in France last year, earning awards and widespread praise. Yet the book's value lies not in its homage to Balzac or the triumph of "Frenchness" in a foreign setting; rather, it demonstrates the power that individual readers wield when they take stories to heart and pass them on, even (or especially) when this is done covertly.

 

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