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Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

eBook - 2016
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Winner of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and longlisted for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, this extraordinary novel tells the story of three musicians in China before, during and after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Madeleine Thien's new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow's ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai's daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.


From the critics

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Jan 26, 2021

does for China in the 20th Century what Pasternak's "Dr Zhivago" did for Russia during its Bolshevik Revolution

Jan 17, 2021

A fairly affecting yarn of the tragic familial impacts of the Cultural Revolution and the other significant historical events that followed.

Aug 12, 2020

A good book but I had a hard time getting through the pages.

- The book tells the stories of Chinese people's lives, during the 1900s, where revolutions and reform happened, with a particular focus on music.
- I find this hard to read because unless you're somewhat familiar with Chinese history, you would likely understand and enjoy nothing from the stories. The stories explore the details of what it was like living under hard time meanwhile still advocating for the political party. Hence, only from bits to bits that readers know what ACTUALLY (politically) was going on.
- I only found the push to read reaching a quarter of the book ( it is along, I was about to leave it unfinished).
- The writing is decent I'd say, lots of details and emotions intertwined.
3 stars

May 20, 2020

Moving tale - made me emphathize with what it would have been like for perceived class enemies (musicians) during Cultural Revolution in China and then again in the democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Subjects I do not know a lot about. Read this during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and it was a big help in expanding my immagination beyond the four corners of my little home.

Feb 17, 2020

Difficult and long, never finished but a very good book about politics and China

Dec 03, 2019

Covering the time of the "Great Leap Forward" of the 1950s, through Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s to the brutal massacre of pro-democracy students at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and finally, the years after in Vancouver, these are the intertwining stories of two generations who lived through those times. This an epic tale and the writing is lyrical (so it is fitting that music is an important element - musicians are some of the central characters, and there are numerous musical references, including a lot to Glenn Gould).

Aug 26, 2019

Tea & Talk Book Club / May 2018

Jul 22, 2019

This book is a masterpiece like no other.

Apr 22, 2019

A beautiful and very poetic novel that I enjoyed reading very much. A great way to learn about China's history while going through very important topics: emancipation, freedom, love... Music, mathematics, poesy, literature and action accelerate and slow the story that mixes times and generations. Beautiful!

Jan 23, 2019

Prose. You will be swept away to 20th century China with this novel's lyrical writing.

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Aug 12, 2020

kthngongan thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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