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Once on a Moonless Night
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Once on a Moonless Night

3.01  ·  Rating Details ·  473 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
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
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 10th 2010 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2006)
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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is one of my all-time favorites, but I was completely unable to read Dai Sijie's following book, Mr. Muo's traveling couch, despite picking it up repeatedly. I think it just had too much of the depression and melancholy that defines much of Chinese literature. (A professor of Chinese literature once explained Chinese novels to me by telling me that one of the most famous books in Chinese literature ends with everyone dieing, even the dogs. Only the flies ...more
Nov 19, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: a. s. byatt lovers
I'm not sure quite how I feel about this book.

It's beautiful, but there doesn't seem to be much plot. This is strange because usually a lack of plot will drive me up a wall. It makes me want to fling the book across the room and consider revoking my "don't burn books" rule. Worse, the narrator is a woman, but I consistently forgot that. (Oh that's right, she has a womb because she is a she). That usually clinches the deal.

But not this one. Not this time.

Okay, there is something of a plot, a sear
Aug 09, 2010 Katy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I almost didn't finish this book. It's very stream of consciousness with very complicated voices, so I'd often have trouble remembering who was talking about whom. It has random passages that don't seem to link to the rest of the story. It gives you that feeling that if you were just a bit smarter and could GET IT, you'd have this really deep and fantastic story... but too bad, you're not smart enough.
China-born French novelist and filmmaker Dai Sijie has a thing for stories involving stories. In his acclaimed debut novel Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress (2000), three Chinese teenagers during the Cultural Revolution find escape in a forbidden stash of Western novels. His second, Mr Muo's Travelling Couch (2003), combines Freud's The Interpretation Of Dreams with allusions to Cervantes' Don Quixote.

In his latest novel Once Upon A Moonless Night, translated from the French by Adriana Hu
There aren't many things I dislike as much as discovering a new favourite in a book that isn't already on my shelves. Because I know I'll have to return it, and I'd rather not do so until I own it myself.

"Once On A Moonless Night" is such a book. If you're into fast-moving plots and suspense, this is not for you. It is quiet and poetical, and even during dramatic moments, there is a sense of the inevitable that pulls you through and lets you look beyond day-to-day grievances.

There is an overar
Dakota Lane
Apr 13, 2012 Dakota Lane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

warning: It is my kind of book and i still have not finsished, it as it is saving my life. i barely dare read more than five pages a day. there are flaws, like the female westerner, not that female, ( i didn't know she was a a she til page 60 or so but that's probably ME) but i'm not that female or western either so i am convinced. why start with flaws...

it is a masterpiece and is the first adult book i mgiht refer to as my FAVORITE BOOK.

Jun 08, 2012 Larry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pardon the mixing of cultures in my comparison of this story to nesting dolls (chinese story-russian doll type)but that is what it brings to my mind, each doll seems to tell another story as you read, but ultimately they are the sum whole of their parts. A rich tapestry of a story that sometimes seems to shift so effortlesly in an out of backstory, personal narrative and legend of a scroll and its translation and subsequent meaning to drive some to madness (including the reader if s/he has a str ...more
Sep 02, 2011 Elsa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: voyage, historique, asie
Par une nuit où la lune ne s'est pas levée, Dai Sije

Une très belle découverte sur le chemin de la sagesse en Chine.

Ce roman raconte les souvenirs d'une jeune occidentale, son amour pour un jeune garçon chinois et de l'histoire qui le lie à un parchemin de soie, écrit dans une langue mystérieuse, le tumchouq, et longtemps détenu dans les collections des empereurs de Chine. Il a passionné le dernier empereur mais la moitié s'est perdue du temps. Chaque personnage du récit est lié de prêt ou de loi
Jun 17, 2012 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A surprisingly long read for such a small book. Much like his "Balzac" I liked it but he lost my interest about halfway through and it became a bit hard to finish without my mind wandering. I think the problem is that the characters, particularly the narrator, seem to be explored academically rather than with empathy. So, when their narrative becomes less interesting (or relevant), you don't really care what happens to them. His secondary characters, such as Paul d'Ampere or even Tomchooq, are m ...more
More like 3 3/4 stars, just shy of 4. The middle part lagged a little hence three stars. This is Dai Sijie third novels, his first since winning the Femina in 2003 with "Le complexe de Di". It's a slow and somewhat nostalgic narrative. We follow the narrator, a young French woman who studied Chinese in Beijing in the late 1970's, fell in love with a young Chinese man with a troubled past. Both their lives are entwined in the most singular yet delightful way. Both become obsessed with a long lost ...more
Jan 24, 2012 Dania rated it did not like it
I gave this book a real shot. I need to admit that I only read it thoroughly up until about the 63rd page and then a skimmed the rest... It's sad because I was really excited and looking forward to reading this one. While reading it, it felt like the author was just rambling on in a stream of consciousness filled with historical information. My mind kept wandering and I could feel myself drift off, which is such a pity.
Jun 12, 2012 Gabriela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: home-shelf-ro
Este o carte buna cu un potential urias. Daca ar fi putin mai lunga, mai incapatoare pentru uriasa si frumoasa poveste, ar fi excelent. In 300 de pagini totul pare mult prea inghesuit si grabit parca.
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 Jim Elkins rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese
No, no, no.[return][return]As Ezra Pound said of his early collection "A lume spento": this is a collection of stale cream puffs. "One on a Moonless Night" is contemporary, but Dai Sijie's imagination is embalmed the period between 1890 and 1920: the period of romantic Sinology, of Fennolosa, Binyon, and even Ezra Pound. The period when an aesthete's most obscure and arcane imaginings conjured a rare perfume, a fragrance so refined, so delicate and faded that it could hardly be perceived. The bo ...more
WF Boey
I really liked Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, but found this book slightly disappointing. I can't really empathise with the narrator; it took me a long while to even realise she was meant to be a woman. There isn't really a feminine perspective. The long historical tracts were not always interesting, though they should be. I admit I skipped the narrator's thesis proposal - it annoyed me. The idea of stories within stories is interesting, but somehow the delivery is not consistent. The ...more
Catherine Woodman
THe book and the author are transitioning between two cultures--China and France, and the dance between the two is very unusual. 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
Jul 14, 2010 Kelle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 18, 2013 Monica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian
There are so many stories in this small book. The story of Pu Yi and his frenzied attack on an ancient manuscript as the Japanese fly him into exile. The story of Paul d'Ampere and his quest to study the ancient language of the scroll even when he is sent to a re-education camp. The story of life in that camp.

The story of d'Ampere's son Tumchook, named for the lost language, greengrocer, good son, monk. The story of the power hungry Dowager Empress Cixi and the crimes she committed to retain po
The book links 1970's China with its historical past through a silk scroll once belonging to the Emperor Huizong. The scroll passes on to the last emperor and is ripped apart by him and tossed away in his plane ride away from China. The missing pieces are purported to contain a Buddhist sutra in an unknown language. This ties back through a student translator from the U.S. who by chance meets an grocer whose family has ties to the missing pieces. The author fully characterizes the contemporary m ...more
Aug 25, 2011 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was a bit disappointed by "Once on a Moonless Night" after reading "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress". I thought that the plot of this book was all over the place and difficult to follow. It bounces all over the world and it is hard to find any kind of point; it just feels like a bunch of disparate events with no connection to each other. Also in many places it seems like the plot would get sidetracked with long anecdotes I found it difficult to sympathize with or understand the main c ...more
Jesse Field
There is definitely something not Chinese about these sentences, something French instead, perhaps in the piling of present participles along a path towards what seems at first no destination, but what is later revealed as a particular materiality, like a Chinese garden path that leads to a gnarled old tree, warped stones, or a smoothly running brook.
The illumination this author gave me was not that of philosophers, or even quick-witted intellectuals, but the low-angled light of a setting sun, r
Jul 23, 2009 Stacie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, asian-lit
Both of Dai Sigie's earlier works are favorites of mine, but Once on a Moonless Night did not live up to my expectations. It could be in part due to my sporadic reading of the book - for the first three-quarters I would only read it two pages at a time; the last quarter I was just trying to finish it. (Yes, I'm one of those insane individuals that needs to finish a book.) This left me constantly backtracking and wondering who was describing what.

Despite my reading habits the past few months, the
Roane Swindon
Dec 17, 2012 Roane Swindon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a little while to get into this novel, but in the end it was well worth it. Dai Sijie has a power with words that make his descriptions effortless and his story filled with life and colour. His characters are intriguing and real, and you can't help but wonder what happens on their journeys.
On the other hand, sometimes his writing is convoluted, and there's too much detail, losing you on its way. The writing is still beautiful, and I would recommend this novel if you're looking for som
John Otto
May 11, 2010 John Otto rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: gluttons for punishment
Recommended to John by: Rosalee
I really wanted to like this book. I like Sijie's "Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress." My wife likes the book and recommended it for our book club. But I just couldn't get into it. I re-read the first 20 pages about three times trying to make sense of it. Names pop up without any introduction and then when they're mentioned again, I had to go back and try to figure out who that character is. There are essentially three narrators, and the point of view keeps shifting without warning. After I fina ...more
Jan 28, 2012 Lavinia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very complex and in certain points hard to follow - at a certain point the authour was being told a story by a guy, who was telling the story that a friend of his had told him, and the friend had heard the story from another guy... Add to that the oriental names, which for me sound the same, since I'm not used to them and you'll understand that from time to time I got confused. But still a very nice and interesting story, it is so easy to believe you are reading real history, and not fiction. An ...more
Mar 17, 2012 Jacqueline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this book is destined to become a classic. Its episodic nature could turn off some less than diligent readers, but for those who persevere the rewards are great. There are several chapters that could be novels in their own right, so it can seem quite condensed. The plot turns on the search for a missing piece of an ancient scroll, but along the way it evokes the human search for the ineffable, the collective unconscious memory of a lost paradise, the human desire to make sense of existen ...more
Jul 24, 2011 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is something very unusual about this book in the way the author moves through time and the characters. A couple of times I found myself becoming a little detached because I'd start feeling a little lost, but the beautiful writing kept me and brought be back when that happened. I read this quite slowly and I'm not sure if that was a good or bad thing. I very much recommend this book and suggest that the reader try to just allow the writing to wash over them as Dai Sijie has the ability to t ...more
Sep 18, 2010 Sharon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dai Sijie has written this book using the longest sentences ever,all filled with elaborate and detailed imagery. He has twisted his stories in and out of worlds ranging from ancient Chinese Empires through Communist China to modern Beijing and in so doing, you have a history lesson of China told from a very intimate point of view. The stories are all tied together by the overarching story of the eight hundred year old silk scroll inscribed with a lost sutra composed by the Buddha. I feel I know ...more
Couldn't get past page 15. I'm not interested in Chinese history, unless the story line is compelling, and this one was much too slow getting started. It was not plausible that the Chinese professor/historian introduced in the first chapter would go into so much detail about Emperor Puyi on a bus ride. That, coupled with the details of Chinese calligraphy and painting, made me put the book aside. Perhaps, I would have liked it if I'd stuck with it, but there are too many other books out there.
Czarny Pies
Aug 29, 2016 Czarny Pies rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone wanting a look inside China during the 1950s and 1960s
Once on a Moonless Night may not be quite as good as Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress but it is still a very solid effort about Mao's China and those who suffered under his reign. It is simultaneously a vehement attack on a totalitarian state, an elegiac reflection on the tragic fate of its victims and the great challenges of trying to preserve a nation's soul in face of a revolution that is both political and cultural.
Celeste Rousselot
Much to my surprise I did not get into this book even though I did enjoy Sijie's other book, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. At first I liked Once on..., perhaps because we toured the Forbidden City a year or so ago, and the rooms and names were mostly familiar. But 112 pages into the book, try as I did I still couldn't figure out where it was going. Maybe it was the translation or the complication and meandering of the plot.
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Dai Sijie was born in China in 1954. He grew up working in his fathers tailor shop. He himself became a skilled tailor. The Maoist government sent him to a reeducation camp in rural Sichuan from 1971 to 1974, during the Cultural Revolution. After his return, he was able to complete high school and university, where he studied art history.

In 1984, he left China for France on a scholarship. There, h
More about Dai Sijie...

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“In Chinese love stories the one who loves always starts by borrowing a book from the beloved.” 29 likes
“Calligraphy may well be simply an artistic version of another form, that is the ideograms which make up the poem, but then not only does it reflect the character and temperament of the artist but . . . also betrays his heart rate, his breathing.” 8 likes
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