Today's releases include a portrait of a country in the throes of an identity crisis, and a novel by one of China's most provocative writers.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
There was a time, before Fidel died and Cuba was "opened" to tourism in 2014, that Cuba cast a mysterious spell over would-be travelers: A country frozen in time with decrepit colonial architecture looming over resplendent beaches and vintage cars, all forbidden to outsiders by forces on both sides. In 2009, David Ariosto, a young photographer landed a coveted two-year assignment in Havana, where he observed of a country struggling to shift out of a Cold War mindset while the outside world inevitably leaked in. With evocative prose and an insightful eye for capturing the details of everyday life—large and small—This Is Cuba captures the island country at a crossroads, as it faces an uncertain future. --Jon Foro
If you want to know what it’s like to live in China, read Yan Lianke. The Day the Sun Died takes place during a 24-hour period in a rural village in the Balou Mountains. One day in June, people begin “dreamwalking,” going about their business even though the sun has set. The story is told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy named Li, whose parents are in the funerary business, and as the dreamwalking continues, the family business begins to pick up. Yan Lianke is one of China’s most popular and important writers, using satire to produce jarring social commentary—his aim is to reveal what exists just beneath the surface. As the dreamwalking continues, the villagers’ actions grow more sinister. Greed bubbles up. Jealousy turns to malice. Tradition and connection are buried beneath mindless industry. There are many deaths, many murders. Li’s uncle owns a crematorium; government policy requires burning, not burial, and the uncle grows very rich. But once the bodies are gone, they are gone for good. The narrative can be repetitive and meandering at times, but something very powerful lies among these pages. There is a reason that Lianke’s books are often banned in China. And there’s a reason he is so beloved by readers there as well. –Chris Schluep