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Book Review: Once on a Moonless Night

December 6, 2009

Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie was a case of judging a book by its cover for me. I liked the cover of this book, its size, and the fact that it takes place in China. The jacket describes this book as “a haunting tale of love and of the beguiling power of a lost language”. The story is told by a student in China in the 1970s. She is from either Europe or America, but we are never given this information or her name. She falls in love with a Chinese man named Tumchooq, who tells her the story of a silk scroll that was torn in two by the teeth of the last emperor of China when he was exiled to Manchuria in the 1930s. The scroll was written in the forgotten language which gave Tumchooq his name. His father, a French linguist, is imprisoned when he obtains half of the scroll, which may be a lost sutra of Buddha.

Tumchooq grew up not knowing his father. After he finally discovers his father’s identity, and finds that he is still alive in prison, he begins to visit him and form a relationship. During these visits, his father teaches him the lost language he was named for, which Tumchooq later teaches to our narrator. When Tumchooq’s father is killed in the prison, Tumchooq disappears to continue his father’s quest to find the other half of the lost scroll. He does not know that when he disappears our narrator is pregnant with his child.

I felt this book took itself a little too seriously. I also did not find the love story particularly compelling. The book jumps around from the past history of the scroll, to the present, to Tumchooq’s past, and everywhere in between, which made it a little cumbersome to follow. I thought the ending was very anti-climactic as well. I gave this book 2 stars on goodreads. It was just okay and I would probably not recommend it.

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