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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

Once on a Moonless Night


Once on a Moonless Night Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. What is this book about? What are Dai's major themes?

2. Who is the narrator? What do we know about her? Do you like her?

3. On pages 31-32, Professor Tang Li describes Puyi's fascination with an ancient language made up purely of nouns: “No verbs, therefore no concerns.” What does this mean? Why did Puyi conflate verbs with concerns?

4. Discuss the role of language itself throughout the novel. Why does it hold such power for Paul d'Ampère? For Tumchooq? For the narrator?

5. The narrator states that filial love “lies at the heart of the Chinese moral code” (p. 59). Why is this significant?

6. How does the murder of White-Tuft change the course of the novel?

7. Why does Tumchooq tell the story of Mr. Liu (pp. 82-85)? What message is he trying to convey to the narrator? Why is Mr. Liu so important to him?

8. Discuss the incident with Ma at the Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Punishments and Tortures. Why did Tumchooq do what he did? And why does he tell the story the way he does? What does this scene say about truth and deception?

9. Is there such a thing as a true friend in this novel? What about Hu Feng?

10. How are women treated in the novel? Why aren't the narrator and Tumchooq's mother identified by name?

11. Is Tumchooq like his father? In what ways?

12. Why does Paul d'Ampère turn his back on France? Does the narrator? How does pride of country affect the events in the novel?

13. Reread Tumchooq's letter on page 175. Why does his father's death affect him so deeply?

14. Discuss the notion of choice. How does Dai distinguish “choice” from “decision”?

15. On pages 197-198, Mr. Tarakesa tells the narrator that d'Ampère couldn't find the scroll because he was a Westerner, that “finding the end of a teaching like that requires an entirely oriental mind.” Why is the narrator so taken aback? Where else does bigotry come into play? In this novel, does it work both ways?

16. Do you agree with the narrator's assertion, on page 202, that “in literature there is just one true masterpiece to which different writers give a particular form”? Do you think Dai agrees?

17. What is signified by d'Ampère's blank headstone? Do you agree with Tumchooq's interpretation on page 230?

18. Discuss the epilogue. What does it mean that Peking has changed so thoroughly?

19. What did you think of the revelation about Tumchooq's mother, on pages 268-69?

20. Reread the end of the sutra, the last lines of the novel. What is the significance?

21. Did the ending satisfy you? Why or why not?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Product Details

Sijie, Dai
Anchor Books
Hunter, Adriana
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage International
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.10x5.24x.65 in. .50 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Cultural Heritage

Once on a Moonless Night Used Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages Anchor Books - English 9780307456731 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , From the author of the beloved bestseller "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" comes a haunting tale of love--and the beguiling power of a lost language--in this story that carries readers across the breadth of China's past.
"Synopsis" by , A precious scroll inscribed with a lost Buddhist sutra—once owned by Pu Yi, the last emperor of China—is illicitly sold to an eccentric French linguist, Paul d’Ampere, who is imprisoned as a result. In jail, he devotes himself to studying its ancient text.


A young Western scholar in China hears this account from the grocer Toomchooq, whose name mysteriously connects him to the document. She falls in love with both teller and tale, but when d’Ampere is killed in prison, Toomchooq disappears, and she, pregnant with his child, embarks on a search for her lost love and the scroll that begins, “Once on a moonless night . . .”

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