This is the story of two teenagers who, in the middle the Chinese Cultural Revolution, are sent to the Phoenix Mountains to be re-educated because of their bourgeois origins. There they will share the lives of the rural population, their struggles and difficulties. In this place they will meet a young seamstress with whom Luo, one of the boys, will fall in love. They will also get hold of a suitcase full of banned books which will become the door to far away worlds, to love and to freedom.
The narrative of the book is beautiful in its simplicity and it conveys all the sadness of their situation. I fell in love with the narrator, the other boy (whose name is never mentioned) because of his innocence and unswerving loyalty to his friend and I love Luo for the same reason, because he is always ready to help out his friend. In this terrible context their friendship is so pure that not even a totalitarian regime or fear can break it, not even a girl. I also enjoyed how the author shows that the novels the boys read are not only a way of escaping their reality but also a way to learn about passion and feelings. The ending, while abrupt and painful, is also a hymn to the freedom that knowledge can provide, a little ray of hope for the only character who can actually have any. It left me with a bittersweet feeling because while I know the seamstress is doing what is best for her, it also seems selfish and cold-hearted.
The 172 pages of Balzac and the Little Seamstress, filled with episodes of these two boys’ daily lives with a deep emotional load, will leave nobody indifferent.