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"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" by Dai Sijie

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How like a novel by Balzac is this little study in love, rivalry, and ego. Two unfortunate young Chinese men are sent into the mountains for "re-education" during Mao's Cultural Revolution. There they discover the tailor's daughter, a lovely young seamstress, with whom both young men become enamored. She is beautiful but untutored, but our two intrepid young men take care of that. They steal a collection of books, a wonderful group of Western masterpieces. In due course they travel to the seamstress's village and read her the great novels, starting with Balzac.
The depredations of the Cultural Revolution are dealt with lightly here; we have the threat of denunciation, but no one turned in or incarcerated. The lonely mountainous landscape presents challenges for this series of meetings and assignations, and symbolizes with its treacherous cliffsides and perilous ridges, the risks our heroes take. The biggest risk of all, it turns out, is the heart of the young woman. If she learns one thing from Balzac, it was that a woman's beauty is a prize beyond value. The book ends with our two stalwarts tearfully burning their precious collection of books - there's no reason to keep them because the young woman has modernized her haircut and her wardrobe, and left to go and take her chances in the city.

The echo of Balzac in the unique setting of Mao's repressive China - this spare little book is definitely worth your time.
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