An old woman, "a long-time confidante of the rain and snow", tends an ancient fire as she tells her remarkable story. She is one of the last of the Evenki, nomadic reindeer herders in the forests of northeast China. For centuries they lived in harmony with the natural world and its spirits. Their isolation was shattered by the arrival of the Japanese army in the 1930s. Over time other strangers – forestry workers, government officials, television crews – have tried to drag the Evenki further into the modern world. Chi Zijian's language is infused with natural images of her native China – a bitter couple is "a pair of weathered cliffs facing each other" – and these envelop the reader in the shrinking world of the Evenkis, whose traditions need to survive: "Our happiness must lie within the mountain forests, not elsewhere."