Looks can be deceiving: Between the covers of this tiny book lies a very large story, indeed. In Balzac and the Little  Chinese Seamstress, as the Cultural Revolution sweeps across China, two young men join forces when they're exiled to the countryside for re-education. Intellectual members of the upper class, the narrator and his friend Luo entertain their comrades and win over their supervisor by reenacting the movies they've seen. When the pair discover a supply of banned books from the West, their duties (which include hauling buckets of excrement to the local farmers) and lives are transformed by the magical power of literature. But their discovery has painful consequences. Mixing history and politics with romance, Dai Sijie has written a remarkable meditation on the power of books, as well as a moving story of how two young men maintain hope in the face of oppression.

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