You would think that Balzac would feature heavily in this book, being that his name is in the title. He doesn’t. In fact, the part of this book I enjoyed the most was the picture of the red scuffed shoes on the cover. Sijie’s writing is decent. Simple but evocative sentences. No complicated ideas. Reasonably dimensional characters. But this book would have been more accurately titled if the editors had chosen something like: Re-education and Dreams on Phoenix Mountain or Flirting with the Little Chinese Seamstress. Being exposed to Balzac and other Western literature does change the lives of the main characters, but if the purpose of a title is to give you an idea of the plot, calling it Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress sets up a whole range of ideas that have nothing to do with the actual story and that I was disappointed to find were not true. Perhaps it would make more sense if I had read some of Balzac’s books? Perhaps the underlying themes from Balzac’s most popular stories were cleverly and subtly woven into Sijie’s tale. I kind of doubt it, since The Count of Monte Cristo makes a strong showing in the plot and nothing from Dumas’ epic creation crops up in BLCS.
A couple other things to be aware of: Sijie’s story has incidents of violence, and one of abortion. Neither is extremely graphic. The violence at least isn’t integral to the plot, so you can skim it if need be. Although if think about it there’s a lot in this that isn’t integral to the plot. You could skim most of the book. I mean, if you were a terrible person. That’s totally a thing you can do.