One for the Road – China: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

As a sidebar to this month’s Chinese Buffet series, throughout August, One for the Road will highlight travel guides, reference books and other recommended reads related to life or travel in China.

Did I mention that I read an entire book while on the train from Beijing to Shanghai? While browsing at the Foreign Language Bookstore on Wangfujing Dajie in Beijing, I came across a copy of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Since my backpack was already overloaded with guidebooks, I really had no business buying another book, but this tiny paperback was whispering to me. After I learned that the plot revolved around a secret trunk of forbidden books, I knew I had to have it.

The tale begins in the summer of 1968, when two boys, both sons of doctors, are sent to a “re-education camp” during the height of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The story revolves around their friendship, the beautiful little seamstress and a mysterious collection of Western classics, hidden in a suitcase in the home of their friend “Four Eyes”. Anyone with a passion for literature will probably find this historical novel to be a quick and enjoyable read. (It’s perfect reading material for an all day train trip through China too!) Written by Dai Sijie, a Chinese filmmaker who has lived in France since 1984, a movie version of the book opened the Cannes Film Festival in 2002.