Once on a Moonless Night: Book summary and reviews of Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie

Once on a Moonless Night

By Dai Sijie

Once on a Moonless Night
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2009,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

When Puyi, the last emperor, was exiled to Manchuria in the early 1930s, it is said that he carried an eight-hundred-year-old silk scroll inscribed with a lost sutra composed by the Buddha. Eventually the scroll would be sold illicitly to an eccentric French linguist named Paul d’Ampere, in a transaction that would land him in prison, where he would devote his life to studying the ineffably beautiful ancient language of the forgotten text.

Our unnamed narrator, a Western student in China in the 1970s, hears this story from the greengrocer Tumchooq—his name the same as that of the language in which the scroll is written—who has recently returned from three years of reeducation. She will come again and again to Tumchooq's shop near the gates of the Forbidden City, drawn by the young man and his stories of an estranged father. But when d'Ampere is killed in prison, Tumchooq disappears, abandoning the narrator, now pregnant with his child. And it is she, going in search of her lost love, who will at last find the missing scroll and discover the truth of the Buddha’s lesson that begins "Once on a moonless night..." in this story that carries us across the breadth of China's past, the myth and the reality.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This should be almost as big as Balzac; highly recommended." - Library Journal

"Intended to celebrate the art of storytelling, this tedious work merely illustrates the perils of authorial self-indulgence." - Kirkus Reviews

"[C]unning literary confection, blending history, romance, a long-lost manuscript and the magic of the Orient….[an] elegant web." - The Mail on Sunday (UK)

"Sijie's ambitious work spans a thousand years of Chinese history….[with] a rich repository of tales, traditions and sensibilities [the book's] theme of indeterminacy of meaning is braided into the clash between East and West….Sijie has a gift for the spectacular." - Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"[A]n unlikely love affair twists and turns through Dai's story….but it is the stops along the way, in which we visit the lost and unforgiven of Chinese history, that give the novel its real meaning." - Financial Times (UK)

"Once on a Moonless Night takes the reader deeper, into stories within stories and myths within myths about China's real and imaginary past...this shy, complex novel, which speaks its concerns so quietly, remains a forceful lament, infused with incident and dramatic storytelling." - The Daily Telegraph (UK)

"Starred Review. Sijie's breathtaking story shows the beauty and horrors that make up China's history while the poetry of Sijie's words is revealed in Hunter's magnificent translation." - Publishers Weekly

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Author Information

Dai Sijie Author Biography

Born in China in 1954, Dai Sijie is an award-winning author and filmmaker. Caught up in China’s Cultural Revolution, he was "re-educated" between 1971 and 1974, and spent time working in a camp in a rural part of Sichuan province. After his re-education, he completed high school and university in China before departing for France in 1984 on a scholarship. He directed his first film in 1989. His first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was published in France in 2000. The translation became a national bestseller in America.

Sijie currently lives and works in Paris, France.

Name Pronunciation
Dai Sijie: Dye See-jyeh

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