I finished Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (by Dai Sijie) last night, after a down-and-dirty reading session on a flight to San Fran for work, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t like the book.
It was one of those situations where you’re sort of surprised at your not liking it, once you come to the end, because reading the book itself wasn’t a struggle. The ending was just beyond anticlimactic, and while that may have been a deliberate choice, to mimic some of the French authors referenced in the novel itself, the entire story really lacked some punch.
The premise is interesting, inherently: two young men in China are sent to the rural mountain villages in the throes of the People’s Revolution, to be ‘re-educated.’ I learned a great deal about this period in China, and the injustices so many experienced as a result of their being labeled the ‘bourgeois class.’ So that element of the novel definitely adds an interesting layer. But not enough to mask the underwhelming love triangle storyline.
The best thing about this book is that it has inspired me to want to read some of the French classics: Balzac, of course, and Rolland and Camus. So perhaps the Provence-inspired Francophile binge will continue into the French literary greats…
“I was prepared to love you,
And never expect anything of you.
If the spirit has left you baby,
Don’t lie to yourself.
Put them old records on,
And admit that it’s gone somewhere else”—Dry The River, Weights & Measures
“They were still in the happier stage of love. They were full of brave illusions about each other, tremendous illusions, so that the communion of self with self seemed to be on a plane where no other human relations mattered. They both seemed to have arrived there with an extraordinary innocence as though a series of pure accidents had driven them together, so many accidents that at last they were forced to conclude that they were for each other. They had arrived with clean hands, or so it seemed, after no traffic with the merely curious and clandestine.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is The Night
“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”—Nora Ephron
“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.”—A. Earhart (courtesy of http://editsquarterly.com/)
This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else - The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you again[s]t the unpromising morning of my Life - My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you - I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again - my Life seems to stop there - I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving - I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love - You note came in just here - I cannot be happier away from you - ‘T is richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion - I have shudder’d at it - I shudder no more - I could be martyr’d for my Religion - Love is my religion - I could die for that - I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet - You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more - the pain would be too great - My Love is selfish - I cannot breathe without you.
Below is a beautiful written from John Steinbeck to his son, written on the subject of love. This letter is one of many in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, a collection of wonderfully-crafted letters from the author to family, friends and colleagues. There is something so personal about reading someone else’s letters… something that really gives a glimpse of their soul.
New York November 10, 1958
We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.
First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.
Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.
But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.
Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.
It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.
We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.
And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.