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Once on a Moonless Night Hardcover – 1 Jan 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (1 Jan. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701182458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701182458
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 2 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,971,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


An erudite novel filled with poetry... and wit (Le Figaro)

The best novel by the celebrated Dai Sijie (Livres-Hebdo)


`Dai Sijie is a wonderful storyteller...the end of the tale is beautifully conclusive and satisfactory'

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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on 8 May 2009
Format: Hardcover
I was very disppointed by this book and had high hopes having read the authors previous one. I found the story to be pretty banal and I did not like any of the characters (especially the crazy emperor and the silent French scholar). Also, I found the writing (although descriptive at time) aimless and with no focus.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 0 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
finally, a truly great novel of China 16 Aug. 2009
By Lisa Lee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress proved Dai Sijie is a magical storyteller. Once on a Moonless Night proves he is truly a great writer. The way he weaves tales of the ancient past into a completely moving contemporary story demonstrates not only his virtuoso narrative skill but also how much modern Chinese culture is shaped by its very long history in a way that is almost unimaginable in the West. In addition, what the story has to tell us about the ways language defines us, ways we don't even notice, is nothing less than profound. This is by far the more satisfying and magnificently written novel I have read this year--and that is counting The White Tiger, Cutting For Stone, Netherland and 2666. My book club hasn't yet picked a book in hardcover, but I will be recommending this one. I will be more than glad to read it again soon. In fact, that was the urge I had as soon as I'd turned the last page.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
complex well written historical novel 15 Aug. 2009
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In 1978 the French student attends the University of Peking studying Chinese literature when she is hired as a translator between the Chinese representatives and a western movie crew wanting to make a film on the last Emperor Puyi. At the meeting she learns of the mysterious second century Buddhist sutra written in an unknown language that the emperor inherited. She becomes obsessed with translating this treasure. The student finds out about the sutra's history in the twelfth century when the Japanese incarcerates Puyi; who apparently ripped it in half and tossed it from a plane.

The student further learns from street stand seller Tumchooq that his father Paul d'Ampere did some work on the half found by her maternal family; her mom is curator at the museum of the Forbidden City. D'Ampere went to prison for twenty five years until he died. The student-narrator aborts the baby she had with Tumchooq and leaves for France after he left the city motivated by to seek the missing half. She tracks him in Burma in 1990, but he is arrested and deported to Laos.

This is a complex well written historical novel that either grips the audience thoroughly with its poetic look back in time or turns off the readers with its flowery description of the past. Case in point is some of the passages go on and on and on with incredible depth like the historian looking at the ancient emperor's love of the art of calligraphy. Character driven including the prized sutra that seems to have a life of its own, ONCE ON A MOONLESS NIGHT is not for everyone as the action in spite of imprisonment in several eras and locales is limited to musings.

Harriet Klausner
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A journey toward discovery and understanding. 13 Aug. 2009
By Dick Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fascinating book. On the surface it is part language study, part romance, and part mystery. It also has adventure, tragedy and awakening. Deeper, it takes the reader on a trip through a millennium.

Sijie, though writing in French, maintains a Chinese style of story telling. We always sense there is something more just outside our conscious understanding of what we're reading. His use of historical figures provides the basis for the quests that follow.

I have no skill in learning languages. Perhaps because of this, I am fascinated by the efforts to come to grips with those that are little known. That, by itself, was enough to keep me turning the pages. Reading the Product Description and Editorial Reviews will tell you enough about the plot.

The author weaves the story through both the beauty of ancient Chinese culture and the restrictions of modern day China. Fluidly written and well translated, this was a pleasure to read.

There is a depth to the story that goes beyond the basic storyline, and I think parts will come back to mind in the days ahead. I heartily recommend this to any who enjoy international fiction.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Difficult but Worthwhile and Captivating Novel 15 Sept. 2009
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Some books are easy to describe. You start at the beginning, discuss the plot, main characters and conflict, and avoid revealing any major surprises to would-be readers. But ONCE ON A MOONLESS NIGHT, the latest from BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS author Dai Sijie, is not so easy to write about. With shifting points of view, a barely linear progression of action, and stories within stories, this novel is complex and highly literary.

ONCE ON MOONLESS NIGHT is narrated by a French scholar of Asian and African languages. As a young student she spent time, in 1978 and 1979, in a newly opened China, studying. With social, cultural and economic tensions running high in Peking, she begins a relationship with a bright young man who worked in her neighborhood greengrocer's shop. Tumchooq Zhong, named for an ancient, almost lost language, was raised by his mother without knowing his father until he was older. His absent father was another French scholar, Paul d'Ampere, who turned his back on his wealthy European heritage for Chinese citizenship. His adult life was devoted to finding a scrap of ancient text, a legendary Buddhist sutra, written on silk, in the Tumchooq language. His obsession was so widely known that he was rumored to have traded his wife for the scrap.

In any case, he spent the last years of his life in a horrific Chinese labor camp, a prisoner of the state. d'Ampere's abandonment, forced or otherwise, of his family mirrors Tumchooq's abandonment of his French girlfriend years later when, after his father's death, he picks up the search for the sutra and leaves her, unaware of her pregnancy.

The unnamed narrator returns to France and spends the next years studying, teaching and thinking about Tumchooq (the language and the man). Meanwhile, Tumchooq moves forward on his same path --- trying to understand the father he barely knew, fully know the language he was named for, and find the missing silk scrap of sutra. Their stories are intertwined with those of d'Ampere, various Chinese scholars, politicians and nobles, and even such figures as Marco Polo.

ONCE ON A MOONLESS NIGHT is an elegant and thoughtful novel. It explores scholarship as a passionate affair and religion as a holistic worldview, identity and oppression, literature, hope and romance. It is also a celebration of the joy of a good story. Sijie delights in storytelling generally and telling this story in particular. Language is another central theme. Written and spoken, language has powers and weaknesses: here it has the power to heal from madness and despair but also the power to drive people to obsession.

Sijie's latest must be read carefully. It requires full concentration because of the stories nested within other stories, the tangle of characters, and the scope of action from ancient China to the contemporary communist state. Sijie references many other works of literature, and attentive readers will be rewarded. This is a difficult but worthwhile and captivating novel with a beautiful ending sure to resonate with its audience.

--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
little known chinese author 19 July 2010
By seuss sweetie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dai Sijie is a novelist and filmaker from China who lives in France. I had previously read The Little Chinese Seamstress which is a charm.
His new novel - ONCE ON A MOONLESS NIGHT is a series of tales within tales and worlds within worlds from ancient Peking with its Empresses through cultural revoltion with its labor camps in which he has fictionalized Chinese history, myths and much more . One moves through this work as if in and out of a dream.. the characters keep growing and coming forward. There are bits if archeology, ancient civilizations, the beauty and art of ancient China and Eastern philosophy - all woven together in a context that we western readers need to understand and appreciate and become swept up in - all in less than 300 pages...I hope he keeps these books coming and I look forward to finding his films... bta
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