Dai, Sijie "Once on a Moonless Night" (French: Par une nuit où la lune ne s’est pas levée) - 2007
I always find it difficult to follow a novel written in a female first tense when the author is male. It's probably the same the other way around but I can't follow it that well.
In any case, it wasn't difficult here, at all. Whether that is the case because the author is Asian and lives in Europe or whether he is just someone who can sense others so well, I don't know. All I know is, it works.
This deep and complex story revolves around a French student in China and a Chinese greengrocer. But there are many little stories interwoven with this, the story of Emperor Puyi who loses an ancient scroll and a French linguist who finds it. The novel takes us from the beginning of the 20th century to 1990, from China to Laos and Myanmar and then to France, it spans half the earth and almost a whole century, it talks about history and archaeology, language and politics, but most of all it is a story about the love between men and women, it's as much a philosophical story as well as a mythical one. And, above all, the language is so beautiful, almost poetical. It is a silent book, one of those that aren't full of action, yet there is always something going on. It is a peaceful book despite all the evil in the world that does affect all our protagonists. It gives hope.
I loved this book, give you so much to think about. It is one of the books, when you read it, you know it will become a great classic one day. Because it is timeless. Dai Sijie will go down in history as a wonderful storyteller.
It is just as great as the other book I read by this author "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress".
The title originates from the old story "Once on a moonless night a lone man is traveling in the dark when he comes across a long path that merges into the mountains and the mountain into the sky, but halfway along, at a turn in the path, he stumbles. As he falls, he clutches at a tuft of grass, which briefly displays a fatal outcome, but soon his hands can hold him no longer and, like a condemned man in his final hour, he casts one last glance below, where he can see only the darkness of those unfathomable depths." (I have looked up the English translation for this, the original reads: "Par une nuit où la lune ne s'est pas levée", un voyageur solitaire progresse sur un chemin escarpé, fait un faux pas et tombe. Par qui, par quoi sera-t-il sauvé de cette chute? Ceux qui sont en quête de ce texte seront-ils sauvé eux aussi de leur folie à vouloir en percer les mystères? Habité par la foi ou le désir, l'homme doit franchir le pas car il sait qu'il retombera "du côté de chez soi.") Such a beautiful story.
From the back cover:
"From the author of the beloved best seller Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a haunting tale of love and of the beguiling power of a lost language.
When Puyi, the last emperor, was exiled to Manchuria in the early 1930s, it is said that he carried an eight-hundred-year-old silk scroll inscribed with a lost sutra composed by the Buddha. Eventually the scroll would be sold illicitly to an eccentric French linguist named Paul d’Ampere, in a transaction that would land him in prison, where he would devote his life to studying the ineffably beautiful ancient language of the forgotten text.
Our unnamed narrator, a Western student in China in the 1970s, hears this story from the greengrocer Tumchooq - his name the same as that of the language in which the scroll is written - who has recently returned from three years of reeducation. She will come again and again to Tumchooq’s shop near the gates of the Forbidden City, drawn by the young man and his stories of an estranged father. But when d’Ampere is killed in prison, Tumchooq disappears, abandoning the narrator, now pregnant with his child. And it is she, going in search of her lost love, who will at last find the missing scroll and discover the truth of the Buddha’s lesson that begins “Once on a moonless night . . .” in this story that carries us across the breadth of China’s past, the myth and the reality."