cover image The Day the Sun Died

The Day the Sun Died

Yan Lianke, trans. from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas. Grove, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2853-9

Yan (The Years, Months, Days) 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. Horrified to learn that the bodies cremated by his brother-in-law in accordance with the mandate to “save farmland” from being wasted on graves leaves behind residual “corpse oil,” a funerary shop owner named Tianbao agrees to buy and hide the oil rather than let it be shipped to factories ignorant of its origin. His son, Niannian, helps with this grim task, considering himself “like a tree that had grown up at the entrance of the underworld.” That threshold is breached one midsummer night, when the townspeople begin “dreamwalking.” Reports arrive of accidental drownings involving the 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. Agent: Laura Susijn, the Susijn Agency. (Dec.)