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Once on a Moonless Night [Kindle Edition]

Dai Sijie , Adriana Hunter
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $4.96 (33%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

A precious scroll inscribed with a lost Buddhist sutra—once owned by Pu Yi, the last emperor of China—is illicitly sold to an eccentric French linguist, Paul d’Ampere, who is imprisoned as a result. In jail, he devotes himself to studying its ancient text.
A young Western scholar in China hears this account from the grocer Toomchooq, whose name mysteriously connects him to the document. She falls in love with both teller and tale, but when d’Ampere is killed in prison, Toomchooq disappears, and she, pregnant with his child, embarks on a search for her lost love and the scroll that begins, “Once on a moonless night . . .”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Acclaimed novelist Sijie has written another novel that has already caused a stir in France. Narrated by an unnamed Western student in China in the 1970s, the story begins centuries before, with the Emperor Huizong, a calligrapher and great art collector, who acquired a silk scroll with a Buddhist sutra written upon it in an ancient lost language. The last emperor of Japan inherits the scroll and then in 1952, Paul d'Ampère, a French linguist, becomes obsessed with translating the scroll and goes to prison for 25 years for illegally acquiring it. When the narrator falls in love with a greengrocer, Tumchooq, who tells her the story, she begins to witness the life-altering consequences of the scroll—consequences that will change her own life and send her on a journey to seek truth and understanding. 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. It's fitting that a story of a love affair with language should be written so beautifully. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“[A] multilayered masterpiece.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“Beautiful. . . . Spectacularly scenic. . . . Impressive. . . . The euphonious sounds of the prose, together with the sensory impressions they unleash, reinforce the book’s message that language can offer mesmerizing pleasures.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Enchant[ing]. . . . Elegantly translated. . . . An intricate and affecting legend of love, loss, and intellectual obsession.” —The Boston Globe

“An exquisitely structured, dreamlike tale of strange and noble quests, not to mention love, that roams across centuries and touches down in China, Burma, Mali and Paris.” —Kansas City Star, Best 100 Books of the Year
“Haunting and complex. . . . Told with a spare elegance of prose. . . . Abounds in inventive mythology darkly threaded by a tragic love story.” —The Washington Times
“A freewheeling meditation on language as the divine current that buoys human experience. . . . As a piece of art, encrusted with meaning and mystery, it is rich and strange.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Much of this wonderfully written book is set against the colorful backdrop of Old Peking and the crisply written narrative is as exciting and powerful as a typhoon.” —Tuscon Citizen
“At its heart the novel crafts an ode to the power of language.” —National Geographic Traveler
“[This] complex and well written historical novel . . . grips the audience thoroughly with its poetic look back in time.” —Mainstream Fiction
“Mesmerizing.” —Audrey Magazine
“Elegant and thoughtful. . . . Worthwhile and captivating with a beautiful ending sure to resonate with its audience....

Product Details

  • File Size: 1190 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B0031RS952
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (August 11, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002KJA96E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,604 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars finally, a truly great novel of China August 15, 2009
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.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars complex well written historical novel August 15, 2009
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
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey toward discovery and understanding. August 12, 2009
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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult but Worthwhile and Captivating Novel September 15, 2009
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).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Boring?
I had a hard time to go into the story. I began the book several times (forget what i have read) before finally reading it. I found some parts very interesting and some other less.
Published 7 months ago by isanews
3.0 out of 5 stars A scroll links the past and present in China
The book links 1970's China with its historical past through a silk scroll once belonging to the Emperor Huizong. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Michelle Boytim
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and Strange
This novel is not written like a normal novel. The narrator is a young, nameless French girl studying in Beijing in the 1970s where she meets a young man who sells vegetables in... Read more
Published on May 7, 2012 by G. Messersmith
2.0 out of 5 stars Maybe I Missed Something?
I really wanted to like this book. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is one of my favorites and I looked forward to reading Once on a Moonless Night. Read more
Published on December 3, 2011 by Laura Boggioni
5.0 out of 5 stars My Selection for our book club!!!
This is a mystical, magical book that uses words to tell a story of the importance of words and the power of religious thought. Read more
Published on January 10, 2011 by Pioneer
5.0 out of 5 stars little known chinese author
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. Read more
Published on July 19, 2010 by seuss sweetie
4.0 out of 5 stars Like a Chinese Puzzle Ball Carved from Ivory
This is a challenging read that is worth persisting with. Don't pick it up expecting a linear tale with a beginning, middle and end. Read more
Published on May 13, 2010 by A. Prentice
1.0 out of 5 stars Never, on any night
The cover of the (2009, Chatto & Windus) edition of this book I started to read is very pretty, with words & images looking as if they have been embroidered in a simplified willow... Read more
Published on October 28, 2009 by Rampaging Hippogriff
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best read EVER!
Both intellectually and emotionally deep. I finished the last page and immediately started again at page 1. Read more
Published on October 7, 2009 by J. Riche
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