Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


by Dai Sijie--

Let the beauty of the prose speak for itself:

The tailor lived like a king. Wherever he went there would be scenes of excitement to rival a country festival. The home of his client, filled with the whirr of his sewing machine, would become the hub of village life, giving the host family the opportunity to display their wealth. He would be served the choicest food, and sometimes, if the year was drawing to a close and preparations for the New Year celebration were under way, a pig might even be slaughtered. He would often spend a week or two in a village, lodging with each of his diverse clients in succession.

Luo and I first met the tailor when we went to visit Four-Eyes, a friend from the old days who had been sent to another village. It was raining, and we had to walk carefully along the steep, slippery path shrouded in milky fog. Despite our caution we found ourselves on all fours in the mud several times. Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, we saw coming towards us a procession in single file, accompanying a sedan chair in which a middle-aged man was enthroned. Following behind this regal conveyance was a porter with a sewing machine strapped to his back. The man bent to address his bearers and seemed to be enquiring about us.

Imperial China? Not quite. The China of the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s. The book tells the story of two young men sent away for reeducation in a small mountain village. Their parents had committed a crime against the state--they were intellectuals. And the father of Luo had been the Chairman's dentist and let slip some indiscreet remarks about repairing his teeth and the teeth of his wife/consort.

What a blessing to live in the United States. When I'm given to fretting about he shortcomings, I need only spend a moment anywhere else in the world to be humbled and reminded to be ever-mindful of the blessings that have come to me just by accident of birth.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 17, 2006 12:32 PM.

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