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About the book
  • Published: 1 September 2010
  • ISBN: 9781407021089
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224
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Once on a Moonless Night




Comprising ancient texts and fables, stories within stories, and a young man’s desperate search for his father’s legacy, this beguiling tale, by the bestselling author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, has the enigmatic mystery of Eco's The Name of the Rose, with the tenderness of the film, Lost in Translation.

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.

  • Pub date: 1 September 2010
  • ISBN: 9781407021089
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224

About the Author

Dai Sijie

Born in China in 1954, Dai Sijie is a filmmaker who was himself 're-educated' between 1971 and 1974, and left China in 1984 for France, where he has lived and worked ever since. His first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, was an overnight sensation when it appeared in France in 2000. It became an immediate bestseller and won five prizes. It is now published in over thirty-five countries. His film of the book was chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. His second novel, Mr Muo's Travelling Couch, became a bestseller in its first French edition.

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Praise for Once on a Moonless Night

“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”

A. S. Byatt, 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”

Margaret Hillenbrand, Financial Times

“A rich and poetic novel”

The Big Issue

“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”

Alan Massie, Scotsman

“An elegant, polished, scholarly piece”

Kate Saunders, 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.”

Julian Evans, The Daily Telegraph

“Dignified and scholarly.”

Claire Anderson Wheeler, The Irish Times


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