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Martin Alexander

Island School

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


Quotations
Though the book isnt divided into chapters, Ive give the sections in each of the three parts a chapter number for ease of reference, as your page numbers and mine dont match! hronology! though the story is told by an adult Ma years later, the span of the story is about a year, from early "#$" until some time in %ebruary "#$&' %our()yes departure is planned for September *th+ this is the day that the rest of the books are stolen ,-art &, hapter $.' /arrator! Though the narrator is given the name 0Ma1 in the film, he has no name in the book' 2o3ever, 3e can call him Ma because of 3hat he says in -art 4, hapter " ,see notes belo3.'

Part One, Chapter 1 0I noticed three blood spots in his left eye, one large and t3o small, all the same shade of bright red'1 5ots of colour imagery in this book, especially black and red! 0 6Mo7art is thinking of hairman Mao, 5uo broke in'1 8 9uick(3itted and spontaneous' 0I played for some time' 5uo lit a cigarette and smoked :uietly, like a man'1 0This 3as our first taste of re(education'1 0It 3as in early "#$" that 3e arrived at that village in a lost corner of the mountains;1 0It 3as hard to see ho3 the t3o of us could possibly :ualify as intellectuals'1 0I am not exaggerating 3hen I say that 5uo 3as the best friend I ever had'1 0 6<ell note do3n everyone 3ho denounced my father, or beats him, he said' 6That 3ay 3e can take our revenge 3hen 3ere older' 1 0A great slab of cement hung round his neck from a 3ire so deeply embedded in his skin as to be invisible' <ritten on the slab 3ere his name and crime! =)A TI>/A=?'1 8 5uos dad 8 brutality and in@ustice' 0;' 3ithout saying a 3ord, 5uo punched me' I 3as so taken aback that I nearly lost my balance'1 5ots of things in this book take Ma by surprise! Part One, Chapter 2 0There 3as no road into the mountain;1 0<e 3ere surprised to see ho3 the alarm clock sei7ed the imagination of the peasants'1 ,/ot a toy, unlike the violin!. 0Time to get off your backsides, you la7y louts, you spa3n of bullocks balls!1 8 headman' 0<hat 3e dreaded most of all 3as having to carry buckets full of shit on our backs'1 0Aear reader, I 3ill spare you the details of each faltering step+ suffice it to say that the slightest false move 3as potentially fatal'1 )arthy and elegant language @uxtaposed' 5ots of reminders of 0shit1 in this book! 05uo had a brain3ave;1 0<e 3ere left 3ith the dismal prospect of gro3ing old and bald in the house on stilts;1 0Three in a thousand, flashed across my mind'1 0The only thing 5uo 3as really good at 3as telling stories;' modern societies every3here, 3hether socialist or capitalist, have done a3ay 3ith the old storytellers;1 This is a book AB>CT storytellers 8 Bal7ac and the others, 5uo and Ma, the Miller, and Aai Si@ie himself' 0I 3as overcome by stagefright and 3as reduced to a mechanical recitation;1

Martin Alexander 02e took complete control of the narrative;1 Part One, Chapter 3 Meeting the tailor and the 5 S'

Island School

0The princess of -hoenix mountain;'' 3ithout doubt the loveliest pair of eyes in the district;'The tailor lived like a king'1 2er name, his @ob, the 3ay he keeps an eye on her, the 0great distress ,of. all the young bachelors1 8 all elements of fairy tale' Sorceresses and spells, too! 0<y(o(lin!1 8 the tailors cry' %ame spreads! 0<hen she laughed I noticed an untamed :uality about her eyes, 3hich reminded me of the 3ild girls on our side of the mountain'1 02er foot, more timid than she, but no less sensual, gradually revealed itself' A small foot, tanned, translucent, veined 3ith blue, 3ith toenails that gleamed'1 This reminds us both of inderella and of the long hinese obsession 3ith pretty, delicate feet' 02ave you fallen in love 3ith herD I persisted' 6Shes not civilised, at least not enough for me!1 Part One, Chapter 4 In the mine+ 5 Ss letter 0; from that day on I shared his terror of not leaving the place alive'1 At that time, the boys 3ere convinced that this 3ould be the case 8 eternal exile' 0I 3as sure it 3as 5uo 3ho 3as crying in the dark'1 0Im disappointed, but thats life'1 8 5 S, about long toes at the end of the chapter' The fairy tale is replaced by harsh reality, but shes more a realist than the idealistic, romantic boys' Part One, Chapter 5 Malaria, sorceresses cure, first kiss 0The 3hole audience 3ept, even the village headman 3ho, for all his harshness, couldnt hold back the tears pouring hotly from his left eye, marked as ever by three spots of blood'1 0?ou mean to say that they can kill the 3orms that get into your teeth and make them acheD1 5 S 8 uneducated, though she A/ read and 3rite, 3hich distinguishes her from others on the mountain' 0If I got the sorceress to come ; 3ould he mindD1 5 S 8 doing her best for 5uo 3ith the 0four old crones1' 0So I embarked on the strangest performance of my life;' I sat ;' and related the /orth Eorean film for the benefit of a pretty girl and four ancient sorceresses'1 0I 3as not a born storyteller'1 02o3 great 5uos talent 3as! 2e 3as able to electrify and audience;1 ,3hen 5 takes over a key moment of the story.' 0I thought I sa3 the 5S lift one corner of the net and bend over 5uo in the dark for a furtive kiss'1 0I 3ent on;' the sorceresses 3ept profusely, their tears mingling 3ith the phlegm running from their nostrils;1 Mix of fairy tale and the gritty reality of real life' Also comedy in the contrast'

Martin Alexander

Island School

Part T o, Chapter 1 %our()yes, glasses, 5uo guessing that the suitcase contains <estern books, helping 3ith the load, getting the first book 02e 3as our friend'1 0%our()yes, 3ho 3as eighteen years old at the time, lived in perpetual fear'1 0%our()yes had evidently aroused his buffalos sadistic instinct'1 omic, but foreshado3ing %)s cruel revenge and the souvenir of the tail' 0It 3as an elegant suitcase;' it gave off a 3hiff of civilisation'1 0A flicker of panic sho3ed in our short(sighted friends eyes, then vanished;1 0<hen I checked the space underneath ; the suitcase had gone'1 0>ne cold morning in early spring;1 Time marker 8 i'e' time has passed since the previous scene' Sno3' 02e lived in constant terror of the peasants opinion;' his future lay in their hands'1 %) 0<ithout his spectacles his goggle eyes reminded me of the dull, da7ed look of a -ekinese dog'1 /ot very sexy' 0<ait, 5uo said' 6Ive got an idea! 3ell help you carry your hod to the rice station, and 3hen 3e get back you can lend us some of those books;'1 0To hell 3ith you, gro3led %our()yes'1 But hes pathetically helpless 3ithout specs' 0>n our return %our()yes gave us a book 8 a thin, 3orn volume' The authors name 3as Bal7ac'1 Part T o, Chapter 2 =eading Bal7ac, 5uo makes love 3ith 5 S and brings evidence home 05uo started reading the book the very same night that %our()yes lent it to us, and reached the end at da3n;1 0Crsules story rang as true as if it had been about my neighbours'1 The universality of great literature' 0Suddenly I felt a stab of @ealousy, a bitter 3renching emotion I had never felt before'1 The book has introduced Ma to the adult emotions of love' 0It 3as the first time in my life that I had felt any desire to copy sentences from a book'1 0<e made love there, against the trunk' Standing'1 5uo' 0<ords failed me'1 ,Surprised again;' . 6StandingD1 0?es, like horses' -erhaps thats 3hy she laughed after3ards, a laugh so piercing, so 3ild, and echoing so far and 3ide that even the birds took 3ing in fright'1 5ots of bird imagery in the book, and this foreshado3s her o3n flight at the end' Part T o, Chapter 3 5 S spellbound by CM+ %) fails 3ith Miller but gets lice 0<e bitterly regretted having returned the book'1 0I could have read it out, page by page, to the 5S' That 3ould have made her more refined, more cultured;1 8 5uo 0This fello3 Bal7ac is a 3i7ard;1 8 5uo' More spells and magic;' 02is thin, bony body 3as dotted all over 3ith angry red bumps;'1 again, %) is not very sexy 8 a figure of fun' 0;' sincere, authentic folk songs full of romantic realism;1 the publisher doesnt 3ant the gritty real life of the old mans ba3dy songs, but the opposite of the real literature in the forbidden books' 0This old man, a poor miller, kne3 all the songs of the region;'1 >ne of the last storytellers'

Martin Alexander

Island School

*th paragraph from the end 8 very comic description of %), afraid to miss a story and tormented the lice' Part T o, Chapter 4 visiting the Miller, getting the stories' 0<heres Bei@ingD ;' <e 3ere taken aback; %or a moment I almost envied him his complete ignorance of the outside 3orld'1 0 on(man 5uo1 is convincing+ Ma 0stammered; in very poor Mandarin indeed'1 0/ever in my life had I behaved in this 3ay' I regretted this incognito visit, rashly undertaken to accomplish an impossible mission on behalf of %), cruel master of the leather suitcase'1 A melodramatic, fairy(tale :uest! ,/ote the reference to Mission Impossible, and the A3arf Tomcruise.' ,-S 8 dont mention this in the exam!. omic descriptions of the Millers pebbles, 0the contortions of his stomach, the sight of 3hich 3as so extraordinary as to obliterate his voice;1 Slapstick comedy at the end 8 02e hadnt poured us a drink of li:uor, but lamp oil'1 Part T o, Chapter 5 %) and the Ms songs+ Ma attacks %) in a fren7y %) outraged! 0<hat is it 3ith you t3o, al3ays going after stuff thats forbiddenD ;'spreading erotic material' 2e might even go to prison'1 0Suddenly I hated him'1 Theres lots of repressed violence in Ma' %) realises he can re(3rite the songs and that escape is possible! 0I hadnt suspected that a tiny glimmer of hope for the future could transform someone so utterly' 2e 3as insanely arrogant, and his voice seethed 3ith longing and hatred'1 AS presents him like this to give us more reason to dislike him' Part T o, Chapter ! To ?ong Fing 3ith 5 S+ visiting cemetery+ meeting %)s mother ,Ma pretends to be 5uo.+ 5 S suggests stealing the books' 0About half3ay into the film, she turned to me and 3hispered in my ear' 2er 3ords pierced my heart' 6Its so much better 3hen its you telling the story'1 ,Better than 3hatD The movieD >r 5uoD <e never find out' Ambiguous!. %)s mother ,poet.! 0; an elegant and, undoubtedly, rich 3oman; 2er voice 3as gentle and melodic'1 %) likes 5uo, but not MA' 0I think hes a bit sly' 2e suspects my son of having a suitcase hidden a3ay;'1 5ook at ho3 %) has reversed the story of the fight in his letters, and Mas self(righteous 0indignation1' 0But no3 that she 3as laughing, I 3as so utterly captivated that I 3anted to marry her there and then, regardless of her being 5uos girlfriend'1 Sexual imagery! 0In her peals of laughter I caught the musky fragrance of 3ild orchids, stronger than the scent of the flo3ers lying at her feet'1 0About those books of his 8 3hat if 3e stole themD1 8 5 S Part T o, Chapter " Aream, killing the buffalo, feast and sorceresses again, stealing the books' 0I dreamed that 5uo had entrusted the master(key to me'1 /B 8 Ma makes the key, but only gets to use it in his dreams; The dream represents a sexual fantasy about %our()yes mother! 0my ears turning red(hot,

Martin Alexander

Island School

like a teenager on his first romantic assignation'1 A little later, MA calls her 0a fine(looking 3oman in her o3n 3ay1 and though the last * 3ords undermine the compliment and he 3ont really admit ,or doesnt really realise. that hes attracted, 3ere not fooled' Buffalos blood is 0a remedy against co3ardice1 8 and %) needs it! 0; the soft leather suitcase, glo3ing in the dark as though clamouring to reveal its contents'1 0<e 3ere beside ourselves1 but not 03eeping tears of @oy1 8 all they 0feel is loathing ; for everyone 3ho kept these books from us'1 0<ith these books I shall transform the 5S' Shell never be a simple mountain girl again'1 8 5uo 5ots of comic, revolting and grotes:ue description of the killing and eating of the buffalo and its blood ,6I keep having these evil(smelling burps., the business 3ith the bucket under the bed, and %) staggering off to 0expel the buffalo blood in a horrible stream, or rather torrent, under our very noses'1 ,last page. Part Three, Chapter 1 =eading the books' Ma fails to cross the ridge to 5 Ss village, though 5uo, 3ho is afraid of heights, perseveres' Spooky red(beaked raven' Mas dream of 5 S death' <ill she fall instead of flyD This foreshado3s and :ualifies the bird image at the end' Time marker! 0It 3as all such a long time ago'1 0; 3e 3ere seduced, overwhelmed, spellbound by the mystery of the outside 3orld, especially the 3orld of 3omen, love and sex as revealed to us by these <estern 3riters;1 0<ithout him ,Fean( hristophe, the hero of the eponymous book. I 3ould never have understood the splendour of taking free and independent action as an individual'1 0To me it 3as the ultimate book! once you had read it, neither your o3n life nor the 3orld you lived in 3ould ever look the same'1 The narrator prepares a gift for Luo of some of Balzac's books: the narrator draws three pictures to represent the characters of his own name: "The first was a galloping horse with a long mane flying in the wind... Horse, of course, is Ma in Chinese. Like a knight-errant (Luo, on his way to LCS after the storm, true to his ambition to endow the lovely LS with culture Cf: earlier mention of Don Quixote, bits of which Luos aunt had read to him (Part 2, Chapter 1 her books were also burned). 0After all, ho3 could I die no3, 3ithout having kno3n love or sex, 3ithout having taken free, individual action against the 3hole 3orld;D1 Aream! 0;he hair floated out over her shoulders like 3ings;'1 0Inexplicably, I found the courage to run over the ridge to3ards him'1 But only in his dream;' Terribly visual and vivid description of 5 S bloody and dead' 0I told 5uo about the nightmare, but he 3as unimpressed'1 5uo tells Ma that he too has had dreams like this 8 like omens, foreboding a tragic end' This further foreshado3s an unhappy ending' 0;'the doom(laden red(beaked raven'1 This image adds to the sense of the supernatural and a tragic destiny that cant be escaped' ,5ast page of the chapter.

Martin Alexander Part Three, Chapter 2

Island School

2eadmans first re:uest for dentistry! Tailor visits+ telling him stories+ the headman catches them+ blackmails the boys' -olitical comment about 3omen! 0It 3ould evidently take more than a political regime, more than dire poverty to stop a 3oman from 3anting to be 3ell(dressed'1 2umour 8 incongruity of %rench fashion on -hoenix Mountain' 0=ight no3, 5uo 3hispered to me, 6youre doing better than me' ?ou should have been a 3riter'1 0The %rench story started to have a discreet influence on the clothes;1 0?ouve been spreading reactionary trash1 8 headman' 0 ure my tooth; ,or. ; Ill; report him for spreading reactionary filth'1 8 headman' Part Three, Chapter 3 Aentistry and Mas sadism! This is the revenge mentioned at the beginning of the book' 5uo proclaims that the bad tooth 3as caused by 0; a bout of syphilis' The headman averted his face, 3ithout contradicting the diagnosis'1 This is made up, @ust to insult him under the pretence of medical kno3ledge' Ma is astonished at 5uos audacity 8 0I 3as flabbergasted' 2o3 could this tyrant, this political and economic despot, this police chief, ever resign himself to being restrained in this 3ay, 3hich 3as not only humiliating but also made him look ridiculousD1 5uo has the daring Ma 3ould never ,ad still doesnt. have, but MA takes advantage of the opportunity! 0Suddenly, I felt the stirrings of an uncontrollably sadistic impulse, like a volcano about to erupt'1 5ast lines of the chapter, too! /B 8 3e sympathise 3ith 5uo and Ma more than 3ith 2 and %), because the latter are presented by AS as deserving their humiliations' Part Three, Chapter 4 # The Old $iller%s Stor& 2e tells Ma that he sa3 5 and 5 S making love in the secluded pool, but didnt report them' Time marker! 06;you visited me a fe3 months ago'1 8 Miller ,last page of the chapter.' So the intervie3 takes place very soon after 5 S has gone' 0?es, indeed, I sa3 the t3o of them, both as naked as 3orms'1 Gery blunt and direct! 06; ravens 3ith red beaks ;1 8 Miller 06They 3ere coupling under 3ater'1 -athos 8 he regrets lost love, but isnt @ealous! 06I understood full 3ell that I 3ould never taste the delights en@oyed by them'1 2is description is poetic, especially 3hen he talks about the dive! 06The ravens follo3ed suit' But before soaring into the sky they dived do3n alongside the girls flying body' She had become a s3allo3' 2er 3ings, extended, did not fold until she touched the surface of the 3ater and plummeted into the depths'1 She is full of life, but in spite of the fairy(tale metaphor of the s3allo3, humans fall and birds fly 8 even if, for a moment, humans seem to be flying as they fall' 5uo is back in the real 3orld! 0The secret part of his body 3as shrunken and sleeping'1 /otice ho3 the coarse old miller is delicate in his language here' 06I; have never denounced anyone to the -ublic Security >ffice' If it had been anybody else he 3ould have been in deep trouble, believe me'1 2es a decent man, not co3ed by the ultural =evolution'

Martin Alexander Part Three, Chapter 5 # Luo%s Stor& Aiving for the key ring 8 the bite of the snake'

Island School

Time marker! this is the day before 5uo leaves to visit his sick mother! 06I am to leave in the morning'1 06;' she has discovered all on her o3n ; ho3 to dive from dangerous heights' I have never dared do it;1 8 5uo <hat she gave 5uo in his despair! 06She must have been the only person in the 3orld 3ho still had faith in my ultimate release from re(education;1 6I loved it ; because it gave me the opportunity to admire her sensual body gliding through the 3ater naked;1 Is his love the same as MasD 06Today, ho3ever, 3e lost the key ring in the depths of the pool' I should have stopped her from going do3n again to look for it 3hen I kne3 it 3as dangerous'1 But he didnt, and she perhaps realises from her close call 3ith the snake that her beauty is a treasure 3asted here; Part Three, Chapter ! # The Little Seamstress%s Stor& ount of Monte risto 8 acting it out' Snake' Bite' Time marker! 0It 3as a 3eek ago, at least' It 3as @ust before 5uo got that telegram;1 %irst paragraph 8 she is intuitive, not intellectual! 0It 3as a gut reaction'1 0Im not like those young %rench girls Bal7ac talks about' Im a mountain girl' I @ust love pleasing 5uo, thats all there is to it'1 0It 3as a totally ne3 experience for me' Before, I had no idea that you could take on the role of a completely different person, actually become that person 8 a rich lady, for example 8 and still be your o3n self' 5uo told me Id make a good actress'1 This is a crucial :uote! neither the Miller nor 5uo mention this, but its a 3indo3 into a ne3 3orld for her and perhaps it 3as this, along 3ith the bite, that made her decide to go' She 3as put off by 0; a snapping of @a3s, fierce and very painful' After that I gave up trying to retrieve 5uos key ring'1 -erhaps this represents the end of their relationship' 2e has tried to 6fix her, but like the boys, she has learned lessons that her educators didnt intend to teach' Part Three, Chapter " Ma in charge 8 fantasy of spy+ attack of the village boys and the cripple+ fantasy and 3et dream' Time marker 8 0; even after all these years I still dont 3holly understand my reaction1 ,see the beginning of -art Three. 0I pictured myself at the head of a routed army;'1 0I assumed the role of undercover agent'1 =omantic fantasy of the protector of a damsel in distress, unlike 3hat actually happens' Mas perspective here is that of the adult reflecting on the naHve boy he 3as in his teens' See next :uote, too! bathos! Bravery! 0I 3ould brave the cold of approaching 3inter and go do3n to the stream1 ,3ait for it!. 6to 3ash clothes'1 ?eah, right' Brave Ma' Gery manly manicurist! 0<here did you learn all this girlish stuffD1 asks 5 S' 0%rom my mother'1 >h' 0;the @ealousy gna3ing at the hearts of the local bachelors'1 More surprise for the brave and manly 3arrior! 0I 3as so enraged, so utterly stunned, that I

Martin Alexander

Island School

couldnt come up 3ith a single damning imprecation' I 3as shaking all over and close to tears'1 =eversal of expectations in his fantasy after his humiliation! 0; even after all these years I still dont 3holly understand my reaction1' Instead of completing his fantasy of chopping off the cripples ears, he is further humiliated by being tied up and the cripple cutting off Mas ear' Instead of rescuing the damsel, the damsel in his fantasy arrives in time to make the gang run off' She doesnt have to do anything, @ust be there, like Supergirl' The fantasy becomes sexual' The volcano of his attack on %) turns from violence to sex, and the lava is a pretty obvious sexual metaphor 8 once its over, so is the poetic language, and the poor boy finds that his romantic fantasy has dumped him in grim and solitary reality! 0he abandoned himself in the dark to a betrayal that left his pants sticky'1 Part Three, Chapter ' The abortion' Survival of the t3o most precious books' 0Im in trouble'1 8 5 S More romantic sacrifice for Ma! 0; she 3as my soulmate and I 3as ready to spend the rest of my life taking care of her, content even to die a bachelor if that 3ould help'1 /o =omeo and Fuliet escaping in this story! 0marriage under the age of &I 3as illegal' The situation 3as hopeless'1 0;' if you can help my girlfriend she 3ill be grateful to you for the rest of her life, and Ill give you a book by Bal7ac'1 06It 3as a girl, if youre interested, the doctor 3hispered'1 -erhaps the ne3 5 S rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her dead daughter, her old self;' 0I decided to extend his re3ard to include the book I treasured most of all 8 JeanChristophe, 3hich had been translated by the same %u 5ei'1 0<e did make one vo3, though;1 the plan to make a proper tombstone for the old hristian priest J street(s3eeper 3ho had refused to praise Mao on his deathbed and said a 5atin prayer instead ,contrast 3ith 5uos fathers confession.' But this seems unlikely, 3ith the description of the boarded(up Buddhist temple and the fact that they had no money left even for a small gift to the gods' Part Three, Chapter ( Burned books, 5 S leaves' =avens again 8 omens of doom' Time marker! 0three months since the 5S had had the abortion' ;' It 3as also three months since 5uo had returned'1 5ots of gloomy, foreboding language! dark, frost, black shadow, looming, weakened, night, spluttered, snuffed out, funeral pyre, mournful, etc' Melodramatic 8 Ma plays the violin over the pyre' Both drunk' All 0fed to the flames of 5uos madness'1 =e3ind! 0The 5S had gone, never to return' 2er departure ;'' had taken us completely by surprise' But 3ith hindsight! 0like a city girl ; shes adopted our accent;1+ the Mao @acket is re( modelled to look like something that 03ould only be 3orn by a 3oman in the city1+ 0The long pig(tail tied 3ith red ribbon had made 3ay for a short bob, 3hich 3as becoming and modern(looking'1 %inally, 0The lovely, unsophisticated mountain girl had vanished 3ithout a trace'1 A phoenix, reborn'

Martin Alexander

Island School

5uo still doesnt get it! 0All that time 3e spent reading to her has certainly paid off'1 0That the ultimate pay(off of this metamorphosis, this feat of Bal7acian re(education, 3as yet to come, did not occur to us' <ere 3e too 3rapped up in ourselves to notice the 3arning signalsD Aid 3e overestimate the po3er of loveD >r, :uite simply, had 3e ourselves failed to grasp the essence of the novels 3e had read to herD1 <ell, 3e dont get ans3ers to these :uestions, but 3e kno3 that re(education, either through a peasant life or through the 3orld of literature, has conse:uences beyond the control of the 3ould(be educators' Time(marker! 0one morning in %ebruary 8 it 3as the day before our auto(da(fe ;1 The tailor brings ne3s that shes gone' She told him, but not them' %ear of her death as prophesied by the dream;' Ma runs too' <hat is his motiveD 0<as it friendshipD <as it my affection for his girlfriendD >r 3as I merely an onlooker anxious not to miss the ending of the dramaD1 The last couple of pages 8 to be added!

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