“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Readers Speak Out

An admittedly quirky collection — selected by me — of unedited online reviews of my translation of Chi Zijian’s 额尔古纳河右岸 (Last Quarter of the Moon). Not to worry. They aren’t all glowing recommendations. . .

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Beautifully written, but depressing as fuck. (full text)

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It is an atmospheric modern folk-tale, the saga of the Evenki clan of Inner Mongolia – nomadic reindeer herders whose traditional life alongside the Argun river endured unchanged for centuries, only to be driven almost to extinction during the political upheavals of the 20th century. (full text) 

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Don’t let anyone kid you that this is anthropology in fictional guise however. Last Quarter is a real novel and the personalities of each of the herders, their sorrows and their joys, shine through. What I found very moving was their stoicism. And that’s not the same as fatalism. They suffer just like us. (full text)

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Favourite line: “They faced each other like weathered cliffs” (full text)  

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The account of the end of the traditional way of life is sentimental. Chi Zijian has not said anything which is likely to offend the Communist party or the Chinese state, but she has not told the truth for the Evenki. There is a story to be told about the genocide of the foraging people worldwide. The Last Quarter of the Moon isn’t that. (full text) 

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Many of the Evenki in the book have foreign names, but these are almost exclusively Russian—Irina, Tamara, Vladimir—as are certain words (the local bread is called khleb), indicating where most of the external linkages originated. The Evenki are, after all, just across the Argun River from Russia. Initially, when they go somewhere else, it is Russia rather than China. The book is a reminder of how artificial many modern borders are; it is hard to fit reindeer-herding into any conception one might have of “China”. The Last Quarter of the Moon is also a reminder of how broad Asian and Chinese traditions really are—and deserves to be considered for inclusion on high school (and for that matter, university) syllabuses in places like Hong Kong: it is easy to read and engaging as well as being deeply instructive. (full text) 

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I liked this. The whole magical realism thing kinda does it for me. A couple of moments of getting muddled in all the characters (full text) 

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At first, as the woman looks back over her long, incident-filled life, it’s almost impossible to place the events she recounts at fixed points in time. Life continues as it has done for centuries: the Evenki build their birch-bark tepees, tend the reindeer that make life possible in such an extreme climate, celebrate their shamanistic relationship with nature, and live, love and die. But, as her life wheels through passionate relationships, the births of her children, the deaths of more and more family members (such abundant and varied deaths!), gradually events intrude which start to pinpoint time. Japan invades China; the Chinese go to war with Russia. Increasingly, military and industrial activity impinges on the timeless world of the Evenki, and they are powerless to fend it off. By the time the narrator’s life has been brought more or less up to date, one senses that their culture, so enthrallingly evoked, is doomed. (full text) 

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I absolutely love this book, but I was a little disgusted with myself when I finished it. I became more aware how my small actions are making huge consequences to others. (full text) 

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Life is harsh, the weather perilous. As the old lady tells her story, the existential imperatives of food and reproduction are brought vividly to life; family members, for instance, are referred to as ‘mouths’. This book brings the very essence of humanity into sharp focus and, as such, it is an eye-opening read. (full text) 

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This was highly recommended in the Sunday Times — I thought it was boring although it did give a small glimpse of life in China during the 20th century (full text) 

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A beautiful account of a vanishing way of life, told from the fictional viewpoint of a lady of great age and dignity, one of the last reindeer herders in the mountains of North West China. I read this over a year ago and her voice and wisdom have stayed with me. The authoress has captured this vanishing way of life and created a vivid world where life is lived outdoors with the moon and stars guiding their calendar. A fine and heart-rending account of the demise of an indigenous people. (full text) 

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The Evenki’s is a way of life where few get to die of old age, and where small mistakes or the spreading of diseases can have disastrous consequences on the lives of all. Where ancestral spirits, carved out of wood, are kept in deerskin pouch, and where the members of the tribe are powerless in the face of first Japanese soldiers who come to recruit the men to fight, and later Chinese loggers who cut down the forest’s trees. What follows is a painful tale of strength and endurance, shamanism and death, of heartache, grudges and bonding, and, finally, of the end of a traditional way of life. (full text)

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