Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

by Dai Sijie

Two boys are sent to the back of beyond for 're-education', but end up re-educating themselves through finding a secret store of Western novels. This book is a joy to read, full of unexpected delights; often funny, though the subject matter is serious.


The village headman, a man of about fifty, sat cross-legged in the centre of the room, close to the coals burning in the hearth that was hollowed out of the floor; he was inspecting my violin. Among the possessions brought to this mountain village by the two 'city youths' - which was how they saw Luo and me - it was the sole item that exuded an air of foreignness, of civilisation, and therefore aroused suspicion ....

'It's a toy,' said the headman solemnly ... 'a bourgeois toy.'
'Comrade, it's a musical instrument,' Luo said as casually as he could, 'and my friend here's a fine musician. Truly ... what you are about to hear, comrade, is a Mozart sonata.'

At that instant the glint of the vigilant Communist reappeared in the headman's eyes, and his voice turned hostile.
'What's the name of this song of yours?'
'Mozart' I muttered.
'Mozart what?'
'Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao,' Luo broke in.

Translated by Ina Rilke


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