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

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.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk