Once on a Moonless Night
Dai Sijie, , trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter. . Knopf, $24.95 (277pp) ISBN 978-0-307-27158-7
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.
Reviewed on: 06/29/2009
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