Winner of the Dream of the Red Chamber Award, one of the most prestigious honors for Chinese-language novels. The haunting story of a town caught in a waking nightmare. As hundreds of residents are found dreamwalking, they act out the desires they’ve suppressed during waking hours. Before long, the community devolves into chaos, and it’s up to Li Niannian and his parents to save the town before sunrise.
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’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.
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 ... The Day the Sun Died is poetic, both in structure and imagery. There are some moments when the translation seems clunky, when the image feels potent but hidden behind some inelegant, perhaps overly-literal phrasing, but the power and dark, visionary world of Lianke’s writing shines through. 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.