Friday, 16 September 2011

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

by Dai Sijie
‘What you are about to hear, comrade, is a Mozart sonata,’ Luo announced, as coolly as before.
I was dumbfounded. Had he gone mad? All music by Mozart or indeed by any other Western composer had been banned years ago. In my sodden shoes my feet turned to ice. I shivered as the cold tightened its grip on me.
‘What’s a sonata?’ the headman asked warily.
‘I don’t know,’ I faltered. ‘It’s Western.’
‘Is it a song?’
‘More or less,’ I replied evasively.
At that instant the glint of the vigilant Communist reappeared in the headman’s eyes, and his voice turned hostile.
‘What’s the name of this song of yours?’
‘Well, it’s like a song, but actually it’s a sonata.’
‘I’m asking you what it’s called!’ he snapped, fixing me with his gaze. Again I was alarmed by the three spots of blood in his left eye.
Mozart...’ I muttered.
Mozart what?’
Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao,’ Luo broke in.
The audacity! But it worked: as if he had heard something miraculous, the headman’s menacing look softened. He crinkled up his eyes in a wide, beatific smile.
‘Mozart thinks of Mao all the time,’ he said.
‘Indeed, all the time,’ agreed Luo.
Of course this was hardly a laughing matter during the author’s own “re-education” stint in 1970s, but Dai Sijie can make you laugh all the same. I really enjoyed Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch; I liked Sijie’s debut novel even better.

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