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Once on a Moonless Night

224 pages

A young French woman in Peking in the late 1970s interprets between Chinese professors and Bertolucci for his film The Last Emperor. Afterwards, she follows a disgruntled old professor who tells her about a text believed to be taken directly from Buddha¿s teachings and inscribed on silk cloth centuries ago. It was written in a now-dead language called Tumchooq (coincidentally, the name of a young Chinese man she has just met), so beautiful in its simplicity it is almost impossible to render accurately in translation. Puyi, the last emperor and last owner of this relic, allegedly tore the silk in two with his teeth while being flown to Manchuria by the Japanese, and threw the fragments from the plane. Only half of the mutilated manuscript was recovered, and the reader, like the narrator, must wait till the end of the novel to discover the rest. When the complete text is finally pieced together, its message is devastatingly simple, and all the more poignant because it has taken such sacrifice and effort to decipher.

A rich and poetic novel The Big Issue Dai Sijie is a wonderful storyteller. There are not many storytellers writing at present in the French language, which makes his speed and intricacy and drama appear more surprising ... so well done, in such a swift and uncompromising way, that the reader and author and characters feel the simple astonishment of having survived ... the end of the tale is beautifully conclusive and satisfactory Guardian 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 Financial Times It exercises a subtle and persuasive charm... Its evocation of the distant world of devoted Chinese scholarship and dying artistry is lovingly and enchantingly done Scotsman An elegant, polished, scholarly piece The Times Sijie has produced another cunning literary confection, blending history, romance, a long-lost manuscript and the magic of the Orient... Sijie can still draw readers into his elegant web Mail on Sunday This shy, complex novel, which speaks its concerns so quietly, remains a forceful lament, infused with incident and dramatic storytelling. Language solves nothing, neither French, Chinese, Tibetan or Tumchooq. Language cannot the explain lives we lead, or the arbitrariness of our destinies. It can only tell us to trust, as a lost scroll in a lost language eventually does, that the ground is there beneath our feet. The Daily Telegraph

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Once on a Moonless Night