1. A couple of books I read over the weekend reminded me of still another book. It was not so much the content that prompted my memory but the book covers: that of Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and the Hesperus Press edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Daughters of the Vicar resembled the cover of Dostoevsky’s Poor People that I read last Summer:
2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, lyrical and funny at the same time, was so much a joy a read that I finished it in one sitting.
The novel of almost two hundred pages is basically about two city boys who were exiled to the countryside for reeducation during Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The two were entranced by the daughter of a local tailor. At the same time, they stumbled upon a suitcase filled with banned Western classics which they read in secret.
Through these books, one of the two, who already was the peasant girl’s lover, sought to make a cultured lady out of her and sought his friend’s help. Little did they know the regret that this would cause them in the end. After some twists and turns in the story, the girl runs off to the city in the search for more refinement. Well, they were just too successful.
3. Daughters of the Vicar is a far shorter work of little more than seventy pages. Ironically, it took me more time to get through Lawrence’s tale of love set in a grim and destitute coal mining community of early 20th Century England before the First World War.
4. I’m also going through the Oxford World Classics Henry James selection, Turn of the Screw and Other Stories. The book revolves around ghosts stories and what seems to be psychological themes. I’ve only been through the introduction, prefaces and the first tale: in “Sir Edmund Orme,” a young lady is stalked by a ghost that those who truly love her see.
5. Meanwhile, Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades provides my first introduction to the writings of the late Oakley Hall. This is the second book I’ve read with Bierce as the protagonist since Carlos Fuentes’ The Old Gringo. Interestingly, I never came across any of Bierce’s own prose. Well, except perhaps for some entries from his The Devil’s Dictionary which serve as epigraphs to each chapter of Hall’s historical thriller. ■