GoodReads Synopsis: In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village for reeducation during China's infamous Cultural Revolution. There they meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined.
The story was unique, I'll concede that. The main characters are two boys who had been sent to the mountains in China for "re-education by labor" in the 1950s. (Re-education was conducted by the Chinese Communist party against young men, typically sons of persons that the Party considered to be threats-- writers, philosophers, artists, etc. along with anyone who spoke negatively about Chairman Mao Zedong.) Under the Communist regime, which had begun in 1949, most children did not learn to read. Those who did know how to read weren't allowed to read anything that wasn't published by the Party, certainly nothing by any Westerner.
While in the labor camp, the boys become friends with another boy in a neighboring village, who is the son of a writer. They discover that he has a secret stash of Chinese translations of Western books in a suitcase. Through some mildly interesting turn of events, they acquire the books and begin to devour them. They read authors like Balzac, Romain Rolland, and Alexandre Dumas and fall in love with the stories.
Complicating this tale is the daughter of a tailor in a different neighboring village that the narrator's friend falls in love with. Really, they both fall in love with her, but the friend develops a sexual relationship with her. The three of them spend quite a bit of time together, and the boys both read the books to her and act out the stories. Due to them and the tales, she realizes there is a world outside of her village, and she begins to transform from a meek village girl who lives just to assist her widowed father in his business to a "sexually awakened" and almost predatory woman.
The ending to the book was incredibly depressing and sad. Granted, we're talking about teenage love, so it's not really the end of the world. But it was a bad ending to a mediocre book, which just made me dislike it even more.
I gave it two stars merely because I feel bad giving just one. It wasn't truly horrible-- just not very entertaining.
The lesson I learned here is that every book I've added to my list is not worth reading. I've cleaned the list up since this book...