“Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”
by Dai Sijie
Amazing work by Chinese-French novelist Dai Sijie! I love the story and I became a lot emotional as symbolisms and important events reveal itself.
The book revolves around two teenage guys who were sent outside of the city to be re-educated in a rural village as ordered by the Chinese Government when Communism was at its strongest grip in the early 1970s. They didn’t have any hope to be released from the re-education because of the fact that their parents were among the so-called “enemy of the people”, a label that the Chinese Government gave to them because of being either immoral or being reactionary against the preachings of the power-hogging government. But as they stayed in the re-education process, they found a beautiful girl from next town and a suitcase filled with banned books which brought change to the lives of Luo and the unnamed narrator. These events started to change the lives of the two to the point that they felt freedom from re-education.
This book deals a lot about learning. We learn as we experience life as it progresses in many ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sensational experience – going to university for the very first time, going to another country, meeting new friends, having a new hobby, playing a new game, studying a new subject, even reading books – all of these can bring forth new ideas that will make a person wake up into a new world. In the novel, the encounter between them and the little seamstress as well as the event when they read a banned book for the very first time since the time which gave them the opportunity brought Luo and especially the narrator into many reflective moments which then became a coming-of-age story for them. They learned about love, sex, romance and freedom in a world which tries to tame them from even thinking about those notions.
It acknowledges the existence of teachers. The villagers, the books and their experiences have become a great source of learning for the main characters…
Yet there is a line in the story that have drawn me to what the whole deal is all about: “Dancing is not something that could be taught… The same is true of diving and writing poetry, for the best divers and poets are self-taught. Some people can spend their lives having lessons and still resemble stones when they hurtle into the air. They never achieve the lightness of dropping fruit.”
Learning will always take place. But in the end, it’s all about us – the self. Learning is quite distant from the person. The only way to learn really isn’t from the outside but from the inside. It involves how we understand life and how we can approach it so that it can work for us – so that we can learn easily – and so that we can benefit to our surroundings as well. We are taught to be reflective. We are encouraged to show empathy.
Through the tenacity of all the forces that our minds absorb, we then find a way to learn for ourselves.
But here’s another thought that I made… No one can control those forces – not even a government who may have all the power to kill anyone who is devious in the social or political order.
In the end, we are all individuals – we have minds, we have souls, we have individual aspirations, we have good and bad traits, we are all hypocrites and opportunists, we are all caring and loving, we are all desiring, we are all needing; all of these in certain levels among us… in the end… we are all… “unique”…
And that uniqueness is what we should respect and understand.