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The Day the Sun Died

Review

The Day the Sun Died

written by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas

How do you talk about a novel that is challenging, weird and willing to take a satirical look at society using funeral practices as a starting point? I adore a book that views life through a different lens. THE DAY THE SUN DIED makes you wonder and your mind wander all the way to the last page --- sometimes in directions you didn’t expect.

Fourteen-year-old Li Niannian notices a very strange occurrence in his rural Chinese village. Niannian is out in the mountains shouting prayers so that a local writer can find the inspiration and words he needs to recount the events that transpired in his small village. As part of his prayers, Niannian narrates a tale that is almost unbelievable except for the rich details he infuses into his retelling that make you simultaneously question and hang on every word.

"THE DAY THE SUN DIED makes you wonder and your mind wander all the way to the last page --- sometimes in directions you didn’t expect.... The dark undertones make this bizarre book an amazing and sometimes frightening tale worth reading."

As the day is coming to an end and daily activities and work are winding down, Niannian observes his neighbors continuing on as if the sun is still high in the sky instead of beginning to set. They’re heading back out to the fields to finish cutting the wheat, going to work and carrying on with their day --- all while asleep. Yes, the entire village begins to dreamwalk. As part of the dreamwalking, they live out their desires, spill secrets they’ve long held to themselves, and act out suppressed internal rage against friends, neighbors and loved ones.

Niannian finds himself in the middle of the chaos, working alongside his parents to help wake up fellow villagers and watching his father come to grips with the acts he’s taken to make a life for his family. The dreamwalking news spreads, and others from nearby villages trickle into town to rob and destroy property, taking what they can while some dreamwalk and others hide in terror. Niannian watches all of this while helping to protect the small funerary shop owned by his parents and to make sure that author Yan Lianke can make sense of and memorialize the dreamwalking episode in a new book.

I wasn’t sure what to think of THE DAY THE SUN DIED in the beginning, but as it moved forward, I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what was going to happen to this family and their village. Would they destroy each other or wake up in time to save themselves? The tiny details shared by Niannian don’t seem important at first. But then you begin to see how these slight references weave the story together, becoming a statement about the larger world and the choices we make as a society. The dark undertones make this bizarre book an amazing and sometimes frightening tale worth reading.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 4, 2019

The Day the Sun Died
written by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas

  • Publication Date: December 11, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 080212853X
  • ISBN-13: 9780802128539