Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Ina Rilke, Sijie Dai Imagine living in society where you can only read state-sanctioned literature. Sijie takes us back to Communist-era China during the Cultural Revolution in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Two young men are sent to the countryside to be 're-educated' out of their urban, bourgeoisie ways by the local peasants. Between horrible tasks such as transporting animal waste, they discover a hidden stash of Western literature and this experience changes them and those around them in a multitude of ways.I was so excited to read this book. I've been interested in Chinese Communism for years, so knew quite a lot of the background, and I always enjoy books that are about the power of reading. But unfortunately this one just didn't click for me.My first issue was the length. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is more of a novella than a novel, which I don't mind in general but it felt as though it was short due to Sijie's deliberately bare writing style. I know this is a question of personal taste, but very minimalist writing like this doesn't do anything for me. I didn't feel connected with the characters or with their experiences. I also thought that anyone who approached this book without knowing anything about Chinese Communism wouldn't be able to appreciate the context of this novel, and thus the real power of its message.I do think Sijie did a fantastic job of showing the harsh reality of life for the peasants and I appreciated how the Little Seamstress herself changed through second-hand exposure to the literature, as well as the two boys themselves changing. For this reason I enjoyed the later sections of the book and the ending.But ultimately I just didn't connect with this book in the way that I had hoped I would. I felt as though the message and power of the book was hindered by the minimalistic/realistic style chosen by the author. I know others loved the book for the same reason that I didn't enjoy it.