I’ve just learned that Last Quarter of the Moon, my translation of Chi Zijian’s 《额尔古纳河右岸》, has been nominated for the “Mountain Fiction and Poetry Award.” Winners will be announced November 6, 2014 at The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in Banff, Alberta.
Annoyingly, my name is not listed as translator of the novel, despite the fact that it couldn’t have been nominated if I hadn’t rendered it in English . . .
Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, the Last Quarter of the Moon (or Right Bank of the Argun, as it is dubbed in Chinese) is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested Greater Khingan mountains (大兴安岭山脉) that border on Russia.
At the end of the twentieth century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of northeastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.
Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia across to the southern (“right”) bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruit their men into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who fell the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlaw hunting, and eventually coerce the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.
If you’re interested in how the Evenki christened the peaks, rivers and settlements among which they lived for centuries, check out Evenki Place Names Behind the Hànzì. For dozens of marvelous photos of Evenki handicrafts, and the Evenki in the wild herding their deer, hunting and so forth, see Northern Hunting Culture. In her Afterword to the novel— in English here — author Chi Zijian recounts how she grew up near the Argun River and mountains inhabited by the Oroqen, close relatives of the Evenki.
Created 39 years ago, the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival showcases films, books and photographs on mountain subjects – climbing, culture, environment and natural history, exploration and adventure, wildlife, and sport – and attracts personalities in mountaineering, adventure filmmaking, and extreme sports as presenters and speakers. More than 80 films will screen during the nine-day festival, and an international jury will award over $50,000 in prizes.