by Dai Sijie
originally published in French*
This is one of those books that sort of defies review for me. It wasn't fantastic and it wasn't horrible. It was a simple read, easy to get into. But there is nothing that jumps out at me that HAS TO be said about it. I'll do my best though.
The setting is the 1970s in China during the Cultural Revolution. Our main characters are two teenage boys sent to the countryside for re-education, a common practice at the time. In most cases, young people spend two years living and working with the peasant before being allowed to return home. These boys are worse off though, because their parents have been declared enemies of the state; it is likely they will never be allowed to go home.
Most of their life is filled with manual labor. They have very few possessions and very little hope. One day they meet the teenage daughter of the tailor from the next town (aka the little Chinese seamstress), and the three become friends. Through a strange sequence of events the boys get their hands on several banned books. They spend their evenings hidden in their rooms devouring the stories by Balzac and other foreign authors, and reading tales such as The Count of Monte Cristo. One of the boys begins reading the books to the seamstress in an effort to seduce her.
That's all I'm going to tell you of the plot - this is really a short book and I don't want to give it ALL away.
What did I think of it? It was a nice little story. There's not a lot of depth. The characters don't change (much), there is not a great deal of action, the time period and culture are simply the background to the story. Like I said at the beginning, there just isn't much to say about it. But maybe you think differently?
One question for those who have read this book. Near the end there are a few chapters told from the perspective of two minor characters. Why?! In my opinion they interrupted the flow of the story and seemed very much out of place. Do you agree? Disagree? Any thoughts?
* I have read other books in translation before but I've never made a note of it in my reviews. I'm going to make a point to do that from now on.