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Once on a Moonless Night Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 11, 2009


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307271587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307271587
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,807,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Review

ACCLAIM FOR DAI SIJIE’S ONCE ON A MOONLESS NIGHT:

“[a] strange and beautiful novel….[Dai] has an outrageously fertile imagination and a fine instinct for absurdist tragicomedy….The euphonious sounds of the prose (gracefully translated from the French by Adriana Hunter), together with the sensory impressions they unleash, reinforce the book’s message that language can offer mesmerizing pleasures.”
 - New York Times Book Review
 
“Dai Sijie…assembles an intricate and affecting legend of love, loss, and intellectual obsession….the sensual descriptive ornamentation…most enchants, as the author’s imagination ranges for Beijing’s teeming market stalls to a remote prison camp and from an austere Burmese monastery to the luxurious decadence of an emperor’s bath.”
- Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe

“If you see a book with the name Dai Sijie on it, read the book…. His best – and most dense – novel…. Attempting to decipher the many narrative threads in the story is no small feat, but well worth the challenge…. Dai’s multilayered masterpieces, however, is far more complex – and rewarding – than a simple love story. With deft mastery, Dai seamlessly combines unexpected representations of the written word….to create an intricate treatise on the power of language.”
- Terry Hong, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“At its heart the novel crafts an ode to the power of language.”
- National Geographic Traveler

“filled with twists and turn of fate, back stories, symbolism and intersections of politics and religion worthy of a Dan Brown novel…. Dai adds layer upon layer of meaning…. [Once Upon a Moonless Night] pulls the reader along, as does the language, which is pungent and immediate. And as for the scroll itself: this is one mystery, one message, that really makes it worth reading until the last lines of a novel to discover.”
- Peter Gordon, UPI Asia
  
“Complex and well written historical novel…grips the audience thoroughly with its poetic look back in time.”
- Harriet Klausner, Mainstream Fiction

“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.”
- Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“[B]ewitching….As impressionistically historical as it is imaginative, Dai’s dreamlike tale of epic quests and love put to the test is exquisitely structured to illuminate ‘Hell, the earthly world, and Paradise’ within the Forbidden City, a Chinese prison camp, Paris, Mali, and Burma. Dai’s dazzling and magical saga intimates that language is transcendent; books are precious; translation is a noble art; stories are the key to freedom; and truth prevails.”
- Donna Seaman, Booklist  (starred review)

“magisterial….structurally more complex than his international hit, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress….just as rich and evocative and powerfully delivers the idea that lnaguage (even more than literature, as in Balzac) truly defines us. This should be almost as big as Balzac. Highly recommended.”
- Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (starred review)


From the first British reviews:
“beautifully written (and translated)”
- Aamer Hussein, The Independent

“rich and ambitious….Sijie makes virtuosic use of the stories-within-stories technique which is so attractive to contemporary sensibilities and paints a vivid portrait of both imperial excesses and communist absurdities.”
- Michael Arditti, Daily Mail

“cunning literary confection, blending history, romance, a long-lost manuscript and the magic of the Orient….[an] elegant web.”
- Max Davidson, The Mail on Sunday

“a potent and evocative modern-day fable.”
- Alastair Mabbott, The Herald (Glasgow)

“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.”
- Chitralekhua Basu, Times Literary Supplement

“an 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….the knotty truths of China’ s past are habitually ironed out by ‘official’ historiography, whether it is compiled by the communists or shot in Technicolor by western filmmakers. The result is a collective memory shot through with holes, and Dai’s pantheon of anti-heroes and forgotten souls is an attempt to patch the gaps….Once on a Moonless Night evokes the past with all the eerie clarity of a dream, its outlines blurred, but every tiny, telling detail extraordinarily alive. Anyone in search of a brief history of China would do well to begin right here.”
- Margaret Hillenbrand, Financial Times

Once on a Moonless Night takes the reader deeper, into stories within stories and myths within myths about China’s real and imaginary past….Startling undercurrents sway this mysterious narrative: Dai Sijie’s inventiveness enfolds it in some extreme stories….show how language, which we (and many modern Chinese) think of as free, may be treacherous and incomplete….this shy, complex novel, which speaks its concerns so quietly, remains a forceful lament, infused with incident and dramatic storytelling.”
- Julian Evans, The Daily Telegraph

“Dai Sijie is a wonderful storyteller….Once on a Moonless Night is full of tales within tales and worlds within worlds, ranging from ancient Chinese empires through communist China to modern Beijing….Everything in all these interwoven tales is extreme, from intellectual obsession to the cruelty of empresses, from the mountain landscapes to cabbages….Sijie writes wonderful descriptions….There is always a sense of the pressure of numbers of people and things, which seems to provoke in the characters a ferocious determination to be individuals, to make their own fates, single-mindedly. Places and events are shocking….the reader feels a readerly excitement, even pleasure, as he or she is swept along from disaster to disaster.”
- As Byatt, The Guardian

“remarkable….the detail of the novel is so enthralling, the descriptions of old Peking so vivid, the picture of the labour camp and the lives of the wretched prisoners so compelling — worthy to set beside Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of the Gulag….an evocation of lost civilizations, of the artistic inheritance of China, and of Buddhist philosophy. For the Western reader this is as magical as it is strange….Its evocation of the distant world of devoted Chinese scholarship and dying artistry is lovingly and enchantingly done, while the contrast with the brutal politics of Communist China and its contempt for decency and human life is as memorable as it is disturbing. It’s a novel which demands effort from the reader, but the effort is richly rewarded.”
- Allan Massie, The Scotsman


Praise from France:
“Erudite, complex, ambitious, the best novel by the celebrated Dai Sijie....a sophisticated and urgent book.”
- Livres Hebdo

“an homage to language…an erudite novel filled with poetry...and wit”
- Le Figaro

“Throughout the book, Dai Sijie mixes the splendor, culture and scholarship of…ancient China with the horror of contemporary China.”
- Le Quotidien

“A beautiful meditation on language and man.”
- La vie

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Customer Reviews

Fluidly written and well translated, this was a pleasure to read.
Dick Johnson
With shifting points of view, a barely linear progression of action, and stories within stories, this novel is complex and highly literary.
Bookreporter
My book club hasn't yet picked a book in hardcover, but I will be recommending this one.
Lisa Lee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Lee on August 15, 2009
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.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on August 15, 2009
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
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on 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 By Bookreporter on September 15, 2009
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).
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