There is a vivid passage in the book when the two leading characters get their hands on a copy of Balzac. The book is banned and the emotions it talks about – love, passion and the freedom it paints – mesmerize the two students being re-educated in the countryside.
The impact of the French authors words spread beyond the two friends and reach the little seamstress who is stunned by the ideas of love and heads off into the woods and makes love to Luo.
The Balzac comes from four-eyes a bespectacled student living in another village serving his time. The book is given out as a thanks for helping him get local folklore songs that can land him a job on a magazine charting the success of the cultural revolution. But after handing out Balzac he clams up and refuses to share anymore forcing the friends to take the decision to steal the suitcase full of books the night of four-eyes departure from the village.
Literature might help them escape but they still have to have coal, plough the fields and suffer the prospect of doing so for three years.