Published originally in 2015, Yan Lianke’s latest novel The Day the Sun Died explores with a strange elegance and dark, masterful experiment these twin themes of night and death, dreams and reality. The book takes place over the course of a single night, beginning at 5pm and ending early the next morning ... This is a brave and unforgettable novel, full of tragic poise and political resonance, masterfully shifting between genres and ways of storytelling, exploring the ways in which history and memory are resurrected, how dark, private desires seep or flood out.
It’s the creepiest book I’ve read in years: a social comedy that bleeds like a zombie apocalypse ... an artfully organized, minute-by-minute description of 'the great somnambulism,' a horrific night of sleepwalking ... A macabre subplot pushes this theme even further into the realm of the grotesque that stretches from Jonathan Swift to Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah ... Yan’s understated wit runs through these pages like a snake through fallen leaves, but if you don’t appreciate the harmonic repetitions of his narrative, it will seem maddeningly dull. And if you insist on traditional character development, you will be completely disappointed. You either fall under this incantation, or you break away in frustration. The novel’s style poses special challenges, too. The plot’s dreaminess is emphasized by Yan’s repeated phrases, relentless recycling and extraordinarily metaphoric language ... it’s a wake-up call about the path we’re on.
...this exuberant but sinister fable confirms its author as one of China’s most audacious and enigmatic novelists ... With its yarn of a single night of mayhem, and its naive but perceptive narrator, The Day the Sun Died achieves a focus and momentum not always found in Mr Yan’s work. His writing—resourcefully translated by Carlos Rojas—feels both ancient and modern, folkloric and avant-garde. He honours the modern Chinese experience of living in two worlds, two epochs, at once.
The plot itself seems straightforward (Save the town! Save the family!), though it would be difficult to define the novel’s genre. It floats between surrealism, sci-fi, horror, and absurdism, while never letting go of its satirical eye. Yet the language and structure of the novel reads more like Samuel Beckett or James Joyce than it does The Handmaid’s Tale ... Yan has called his writing “mythorealism,” which seems an apt description. The Day the Sun Died bears the largesse and cadence of myth ... Yan’s physical descriptions can be rich and specific, grounded in realism, but also far-fetched and steeped in surprising metaphor.
... Yan skillfully renders — both realistically and surrealistically — the nightmarish story ... Effortlessly blending metaphor and allegory, symbolism and satire, Yan has crafted a distinct literary work of dystopian satire, a blend of bruising bureaucratic critique with a sly postmodern pastiche of realism, absurdism and the grotesque ... The novel is a tour de force of language control. Rojas has honored all of Yan’s vertiginous syntax, with its switchbacks and echoes, its rhythms and recursions, inducing a spell like a hypnotist’s watch swinging back and forth, lowering our defenses against its control ... The magnificence of Niannian’s narration is that it can be read on many levels.
The novel is set in a village over a 24-hour period in June in which the villagers are afflicted by mass somnambulism, or as the Chinese put it 'dream walking'. The events are recounted hour by hour through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy, Li Niannian, whose parents eke out a living making and selling funerary paraphernalia ... Yan’s disgust for his country’s moral degradation is unmistakable...In his earlier works, Yan’s bleak view was enlivened with satire. Here, such moments are scarce: his characters follow their increasingly bizarre scripts without engaging the reader, despite Carlos Rojas’s impeccable translation. It is as though the burden of being a writer in today’s China has become too heavy, the accumulation of unthinkable events too great, even for such a master as Yan Lianke.
Yan Lianke’s latest novel, The Day the Sun Died... manages to strike a balance between humor and horror as the world crumbles over the course of one very long night ... Lianke’s prose, partnered with Rojas’ translation, makes a convincing and trustworthy narrator out of Li Niannian ... The Day the Sun Died peaks when dreamwalkers decide to fight a town battle to restore the Ming Dynasty and Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of centuries ago.
Yan’s story centers on fourteen-year old teenager Li Niannian and his family’s 'New World' funerary business...The narrative itself takes place over the course of a single night in which time eventually stands still and the sun disappears. Beginning at dusk one June evening and recounted retrospectively by Niannian, the story proceeds along irregular hourly intervals as the town and its inhabitants are gradually overtaken by what is described as 'the great somnambulism'. Ostensibly awake although unaware of their actions, the villagers innocently appear to 'dreamwalk' ... Alarmingly dark chaos is quickly born from such single-mindedness ... And then there is the bleakness. Of Yan’s novels Niannian writes that 'when placed together they resemble a vast wilderness' or 'a simple yet messy grave.' Perhaps Yan shares Stephen Dedalus’s immobilizing concern over the nightmare of history, one from which he is trying to awaken. Or perhaps he has chosen instead to linger between China’s contentious past and the promise of its future.
Yan’s talents as a dystopian prophet are most evident ... Yan has conjured up something both ghastly and unreal, yet only liminally unreal, something that could possibly be real. This confusion between the potentially true and absolutely false is underscored by Yan’s own presence in the novel, as a character ... The writing and translation are both excellent, which only makes these figures of speech all the more disquieting.
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 ... 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 ... The dark undertones make this bizarre book an amazing and sometimes frightening tale worth reading.
Call Yan Lianke a magical realist with an unsparingly violent bent. Call him a Swiftian satirist taking aim at the regimentation of modern Chinese life. Either way, this dystopian fable has a heart as dark as the fateful night it describes ... This is no gentle authorial chiding of social foibles with tolerant affection. It’s a derisive indictment, most likely of the enforced conformity and seething undercurrents of life under the Xi Jinping regime ... The Day the Sun Died powers its way along a shockingly brutal trajectory ... What stands out, at least for this reader, is Niannian’s incessant penchant for relating people and events figuratively, often in similes, and frequently at a rate of three or more to the page. In English, some of these tropes come across as sour notes, forced and overdone.
...Our narrator here is 14-year-old Li Niannian...the child of morticians, he lives across the way from a writer named Yan Lianke in Gaotian, a village that, Niannian believe, lies at the center of the world. When we meet him, Niannian is imploring the celestial beings to protect Gaotian, his family, and Yan from decidedly weird events—for the people of Gaotian have turned in for the night, but they cannot sleep, and as they 'dreamwalk' they do untoward things ... As dreamscape realized, however horrible, Yan’s novel belongs in the company of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo and even James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Yan trains his fantastical, satiric eye on China’s policy of forced cremation in this chilling novel about the 'great somnambulism' that seizes a rural town ...Reports arrive of accidental drownings involving 'dreamwalkers', then of a murder with an iron rod. Looting and violence spread as more people begin dreamwalking, until the town is 'engulfed in the sounds of screams and murderous beatings.' The interweaving of politics and delusion creates a powerful resonance that is amplified by Tianbao’s borderline mythical plan for how to 'drive away the darkness,' leading to an unforgettable ending. This is a riveting, powerful reading experience.