This is my first read for the What's in a Name Challenge. I really didn't know that much about this book when I picked it up. It's been on my shelves for a while, and it fits the category of "a book with a profession in its title." From the brief blurb on the back of the book, I thought I would really love this one. However, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I did like it. There just wasn't as much about books as I thought there would be.
Two lifelong friends find themselves sent to a tiny village on a mountainside far away from their family and the life they knew in the city. This was part of the "reeducation" process of the Cultural Revolution. The children of famous doctors, scientists, and other academic types were taken from their homes and sent to live with peasants in the hopes that they would forget their bourgeois lifestyle and embrace the communist ideal.
The boys make an acquaintance in a neighboring village who is also a victim of the "reeducation" process. The boys suspect that he is harboring a dangerous secret and soon discover that he has contraband hidden in a suitcase. Yep, you guessed it -- he has books. All literature, especially western literature was banned during this period. The only approved reading material was books by Chairman Mao and his followers. The boys finally persuade their friend to let them borrow some books, which they devour. In addition to Balzac, they have books by Flaubert, Gogol, Melville, and Romain Rolland. These books open the boys' eyes to a new world. Even though they had lived in the city, they were very naive and knew little of the ways of the world, especially when it came to women and sex.
Luo is smitten with the daughter of a tailor in one of the villages on the mountain and begins daily visits to read to her from Balzac. He is trying to impress her, and he also feels that he is doing her a favor by educating her, as well. They have a brief, albeit intense romance. I won't go into more detail here for fear of ruining the story. Overall, I liked the book, but I didn't love it the way I thought I would. I enjoyed learning a little more about the Chinese culture during this period in addition to the literary references. I'd be interested to know what you think if you've read it.