Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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“No one person can tell a story this large,” Marie narrates in the ending pages of the novel, about a writing project she calls her own Book of Records. It speaks to the remarkable authenticity of Thien’s novel
-NY Times

Synopsis

An extraordinary novel set in China before, during and after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989--the breakout book we've been waiting for from a bestselling, Amazon.ca First Novel Award winner.


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.
 

About Madeleine Thien

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Published May 31, 2016 by Knopf Canada. 480 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Do Not Say We Have Nothing
All: 6 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 0

Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Aug 13 2016

Thien's reach—though epic —does not extend beyond her capacity, resulting in a lovely fugue of a book that meditates on fascism, resistance, and personhood.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Jiayang Fan on Oct 11 2016

“No one person can tell a story this large,” Marie narrates in the ending pages of the novel, about a writing project she calls her own Book of Records. It speaks to the remarkable authenticity of Thien’s novel

Read Full Review of Do Not Say We Have Nothing | See more reviews from NY Times

Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by David B Hobbs on Jun 10 2016

Although ostensibly a historical novel about two of the most significant moments in recent Chinese history, Thien has written a supple epic about that which remains behind after each new beginning. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is thoroughly researched but without the burden of trivia, both riveting and lyrical.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Leslie Shimotakahara on May 25 2016

With unflinching clarity, Thien examines the strange, frightening psychology of mass violence in this period and how countless lives were lost as a result. It falls to music, art and literature to salvage fleeting moments of beauty from the ruins of history, the lives of the dead.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Lettie Kennedy on Aug 07 2016

Restrained, courageous and profound, Thien’s novel – now Booker longlisted – bears witness to a period the true history of which remains contested.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Isabel Hilton on Jul 14 2016

This is a moving and extraordinary evocation of the 20th-century tragedy of China, and deserves to cement Thien’s reputation as an important and compelling writer.

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