Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was, by Angelica Gorodischer, trans. by Ursula K. Le Guin
I'd really been looking forward to this, and it did not disappoint. Angelica Gorodischer is an Argentinian writer, and has published quite a bit, but this is her first book to be published in English. This book was originally published in two parts, in the early 1980s. Each part is a collection of stories.
Most of the time, the stories are told by an old storyteller -- but not always. Some are different. All purport to tell small parts of the extremely long history of the Empire, which has existed in various forms for thousands of years. There are dark ages, many dynasties, and waxings and wanings of power.
The first story actually tells of the complete destruction of the Empire in what you might call prehistoric times, since all knowledge was lost for quite some time. People lived in a new stone age until one young man ventured further into the old ruins than anybody else had, and started people building again.
Other chapters chronicle the long life of a city, or how an ordinary woman with a lot of common sense ended up advising a hemophiliac Emperor. There is the story of a little neglected prince who is taught to hate his traitorous (and dead) father, until some workmen just happen to tell him a different version of history than the one he's been taught.
A disgraced Northern nobleman wanders into the rainforesty South and accidentally becomes the leader of a revolution, and a doctor lives in an empty mansion and tells people who to be cured.
The last story was one of my favorites, and is also one of the strangest. A caravan is crossing the desert, and an orphan coaxes the leader into telling ancient legends -- which, it takes a while to realize, are a mishmash of our own ancient legends, stories, and films. I enjoyed trying to tease out just what this story meant (I have no idea).
A really interesting set of stories to read, strange and dreamlike and not quite like ordinary SF/F. I've never read a whole lot of Le Guin, but I think her fans would enjoy this too. Also, I really love the cover.