Harvill Secker, £17.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
The Last Quarter of the Moon, By Chi Zijian, trans. Bruce Humes
Enter another world with this magical novel of nomadic life as the time of the shaman ends
Friday 01 February 2013
A 90-year-old woman looks back on a tumultuous past governed by ritual, the laws of nature and the will of "the Spirits". Our unnamed narrator is a member of the Evenki people; an animistic, reindeer-herding, hunter tribe who live in the mountain forests of north-east China.
Chi Zijian's beautifully realised novel offers a detailed portrait of a way of life hard to imagine today. The narrator comes from a long lineage of clan chieftains and, through her recollections, we follow the decline of the Evenki. Apart from her grandson, the rest of her family have reluctantly agreed to leave their nomadic lifestyle and settle in the local town.
The natural beauty that surrounds the Evenki people is celebrated in lyrical prose while the harsher side of mountain life – disease, famine, hungry animals and sudden storms – is described in a matter-of-fact tone. Children are particularly susceptible to these inherent dangers and there are heartbreaking descriptions of their untimely deaths and burial.
The Evenki survive by their wits and their hunting skills. They find meaning in the birds, rivers, rocks and trees that surround them. Spiritually, they are guided by a Shaman who is also their healer. Cinders of fire are kept alight for decades and are passed between generations. The infirm and their possessions are transported by gentle, noble reindeer for whom "the forest is their granary… they nibble lightly so that hardly a blade of grass is harmed and what should be green remains green".
Outside, China is undergoing massive change. Over the years they learn to trade with the wily Russians, followed by the taciturn Japanese, who force the male hunters to serve in the Manchukuo Army, and the Han Chinese whose intensive tree-felling impacts on the survival of their reindeer.
Finally, the Communists corral the nomadic tribe into permanent settlements. It was surely no easy task to make this ancient, wise narrator sound convincing in English. Bruce Humes's skilful translation is pitch-perfect.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Video: Boxer Vido Loncar brutally assaults referee following defeat
Mike Read 'apologises unreservedly' for Ukip Calypso and withdraws it from sale
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991 with most Brits wanting to stay in'