Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine ThienDo Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

byMadeleine Thien

Hardcover | May 31, 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.
Madeleine Thien is the author of the story collection Simple Recipes, which was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, a Kiriyama Pacific Prize Notable Book, and won the BC Book Prize for Fiction; the novel Certainty, which won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award; and the novel Dogs at the Perimeter, which was shortlisted for Berl...
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Title:Do Not Say We Have NothingFormat:HardcoverDimensions:480 pages, 9.24 × 6.34 × 1.5 inPublished:May 31, 2016Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345810422

ISBN - 13:9780345810427

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Reviews

Rated 2 out of 5 by from Trouble keeping up with this All the unusual names and story lines and time lines flowing back and forth. It’s too confusing. It is slow, very slow. This is the first book I have read of this author and I can tell she is a good writer, but the flow for me is too confusing to completely enjoy this book.
Date published: 2017-10-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from fought my way through I fought my way through this book, wondering what I was missing for it to be so acclaimed and yet I found it such a struggle. It wandered and jumped, and there didn't seem to be any real plot or urgency compelling me to keep reading. Yet, I did. I connected with not a single character, and although the language - especially around music- was beautiful at times, it did little to keep my interest. I guess I didn't "get" it.
Date published: 2017-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you are interested in Modern Chinese history, this book is a must read. Set both in the present and during the time of the cultural revolution, this book tells the the multi-generational stories of connected families, living both in China and in North America. It is easy for the reader to get caught up in the emotions of living during a difficult time in history. Highly recommended read.
Date published: 2017-09-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Do Not Say We Have Nothing The 2016 ScotiaBank Giller prizewinner is a gem of a book. 'Do Not Say We Have Nothing' takes the reader from modern day Vancouver, back to China of the 1960's through the Cultural Revolution and to the uprising at Tianamen Square. This is not always an easy book to read. Sometimes I found the timelines confusing and sometimes I had to struggle to work out who was who. However, the writing is beautiful. Every day when I picked the book up, I had to remind myself of where I was in the narrative, but whenever I put the book down my thought was, 'This is such a good book!'. The section on the Tianamen Square uprising, in particular, was so vividly engrossing and I could imagine myself on the sidelines in the students' struggle. I have put this book aside to read again - it just won't let me go.
Date published: 2017-09-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Why oh why is this such an award winner... I tried - oh how i tried - to enjoy this novel. It just made me sad. Furthermore, the story within the story within the story was way too complicated than it needed to be...
Date published: 2017-09-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from had to work to finish it picked this book up after seeing such glowing reviews however it was hard to get into and I struggled to finish. Was a slow book with lots of details and multiple story lines that just couldn't keep my attention or interest.
Date published: 2017-09-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I "wanted" to like this I really wanted to like this book, I really did. The writing style and format just did not work for me and the story was excruciatingly slow. I had to abandon it which is not to say that someone else might not love it, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I'll stick with Amy Tan
Date published: 2017-08-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from ... A little slow but still extremely interesting.
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super Very interesting book, lots of witty stuff.
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beautiful, important, but slow This book was a beautifully written, powerful, sad, multi-generational story about life during the cultural revolution. It is a long, slow read, but worth it.
Date published: 2017-08-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Book This book gave me more insight on how it was to live during the revolution in China. The journey of the young and old generation and how different people saw the issue through different points of view. There is an amazing plot any readers can learn a lot.
Date published: 2017-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great book Turns out I do not know very much about China's recent history. A Powerful story.
Date published: 2017-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great book lovely story and plot.made me want to read more about China.
Date published: 2017-07-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from good hard to get into, took a while to read it. But in the end glad i finished it
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great read! An emotional journey through 20th century China.
Date published: 2017-06-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Hard but compelling read A little difficult to get through but deals with some very fascinating topics
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Difficult but worth it It was hard to get into but the story is so interesting that I had to finish, and by the half-way point I was hooked. The pace of the story picks up as it goes. If you're struggling to get through this one stick with it! It's worth it. It also inspired me to do some research on the events the book is based around. I had heard of it before but didn't really know much about it. Horrifying and interesting stuff.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from slow and dense very slow and dense read. could not get through it... #plumreview
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from slow and dense very slow and dense read. i could not get through this book...
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Difficult but interesting I agree with most reviews here - difficult and slow, and also beautiful and filled with so much interesting information about a very secretive time in China's history. I loved the story within the story/book within a book aspect; however, it did take a while to get into and at first the many characters were hard to keep track of. Still, this novel did not win it's many accolades for nothing!
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully Written The author transforms tragic history and emotions into beautiful phrases. It is a slow read at first, but the sheer beauty of each sentence kept me going, and it turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read!
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling story! I learned so much about the Chinese cultural revelation, that I could not believe I did not know.
Date published: 2017-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Poetic and Beautiful This book! It was sad and beautiful and poetic. It was a story inside a story, books within a book. It was also an eye opening history lesson on the cultural revolution in China. It was amazing! I reread paragraphs simply because they were so beautifully written. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Do Not Say We Have Nothing This novel is set during the cultural revolution in China through to the Tienanmen Square Protests and modern day Canada. It follows multiple lines: that of a family in China during the revolution and that of our protagonist in Canada as she learns more about her father and his life in China. This book was definitely slow, however I enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel. Without much background, it was hard to follow some of the historical events that were occurring in the background of the plot. I definitely recommend keeping a Wikipedia tab open as you read. Its a story that needed to be told.
Date published: 2017-04-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A dense read.... This was slow and complicated for me.
Date published: 2017-04-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Slow Very slow beginning that never seemed to gain momentum for me. Had to put away and get a new book.
Date published: 2017-04-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but Slow I agree with a lot of the reviews listed. A well written story but a tad slow. I still would recommend the book , but have the patience to get through it being slow nonetheless.
Date published: 2017-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Slow but worth the read It took me a while to get into this book and I almost gave up, but I am so glad I kept reading. This book details a time in China's history that you never hear about. It's a wonderful read.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Slow start... Slow start but a great read non the less.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Slow but really great Really loved this book! The characters, the plotline, the dialogue. I loved the unique premise. Highly recommend!
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Agree with Others As many other reviewers have commented, this story is very slow to start and I had a hard time getting into it. Actually, I had a hard time with it overall. I agree it was very well written and I can understand why it won the Giller. I would say it is "traditional" CanLit in that it is very descriptive, with many instances of long-winded narrative. Well-written and evocative but not my cup of tea.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Alright It was a little slow paced at first, but as you move through the book, it is truly amazing
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from slow but not bad slow in the beginning but not a bad read overall.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Slow start, but worth sticking with it! Other reviewer's comments are fair - it's a slow start. But stick with it - Thien's writing is beautiful. It becomes more descriptive and by the last third of the book, the pictures in my head were extremely vivid. I found myself as angry and confused as the characters - and wondered how I could endure over time - and reconcile my thoughts with my outward actions in such a hostile situation. A really great read.
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting I enjoyed reading this book. Was real curious how it was going to end.
Date published: 2017-03-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worth The Read I had a really hard time getting into this book. Once I got into it, though, I could see why it won the Giller Prize. It was so well written. A really tough subject matter. Sad story... really sad.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Intersting Not a bad book, not a great book, just a book I read...
Date published: 2017-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Got as gift. I found it hard to get into but as I continued it was very interesting.
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from great got this book as a gift and love it
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This is a powerful book. The story is dense and involves many characters, while taking you on a very intimate journey through China during those turbulent times.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful writing and wonderful characters Madeleine Thien is a beautiful and thoughtful writer. I loved the importance and the influence of music and the sublty and mysteriousness of the relationships throughout the story. Would highly recommend!
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing I love this book. 5-stars all the way. The storytelling is what stood out the most to me... Thien's writing is superb. I knew I had to buy this book instead of borrowing it from the library. I think this story will stick with me for a long time.
Date published: 2017-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I loved this Madeleine Rhein's writing is simply phenomenal. Beautiful story too!
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heartfelt I strongly recoommend everyone to read this book! It is beatuful written and very heart-warming.
Date published: 2017-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from touching heartfelt story. suspenseful
Date published: 2017-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptionally terrifying and touching. Each page, parapragh,sentence demands contemplation and acknowledgement. A beautiful, suspenseful novel about a well documented horrific time for the Chinese people.
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book Fabulous present from my fabulous son.
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Love it! Amazing read. Would definitely recommend.
Date published: 2017-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Writing at its best This is not standard escapism fiction, but a story worth the telling, beautifully crafted and filled with perfectly chosen descriptions.
Date published: 2017-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring I finally got my hands on this book and wow...just wow. This captivated me from the first page and kept me up way past my bedtime. READ THIS if you haven't already!
Date published: 2017-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Inspiring Very Inspiring and great book to read
Date published: 2017-02-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing I heard a lot about this book as well as reading tons of good reviews and recommendations. For me this was too slowly paced to hold my interest and the plot was near non existent.
Date published: 2017-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great novel Read it, you will not be disappointed in this book.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a gentle look. worth the read but can be slowly paced at times.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A gentler perspective Definitely worth the read although a bit wordy and slow-paced at times.
Date published: 2017-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Novel!! I really love this book, I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2017-02-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Poetic and Heartbreaking Madeline Thien takes readers though an intricate narrative that explores the connected lives of two families through their experiences in communist China. This story explores the legacy that we pass down from one generation to the next and the love we never leave behind. Thien beautifully describes the experiences of her characters living through the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution and Tianamen Square, and links it all back to a story of love and healing.
Date published: 2017-02-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from love! loved it, incredibly amazing
Date published: 2017-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth the read I enjoyed reading this book. I would highly recommend.
Date published: 2017-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Got it as a gift for my mom Mother loved it, said it was a 10/10
Date published: 2017-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from simply amazing!!! the cover alone intrigued me, then the was the story! amazing!
Date published: 2017-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read Really happy with this one
Date published: 2017-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Got this as a gift for my birthday very pleased with it
Date published: 2017-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling A compelling, well-written story that dives deep into Chinese culture and history. I could see this being good for a book club. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read worth the read! pick it up if you can
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great This book was so interesting I could not put it down.
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engaging Not the kind of book I'm usually drawn to, but gave it a chance as it was gifted to me by someone who knows me well. And I'm glad I did. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2017-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great I enjoyed it. I like reading about other cultures.
Date published: 2017-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book would definitely recommend
Date published: 2017-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from pretty good i couldnt put this book down
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from deep layers upon layers of depth
Date published: 2016-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite novel Clear understand from cultural revolution to 1989
Date published: 2016-12-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved it! it was Deep Its something I've never read, thankful for my friend for the recommendation.
Date published: 2016-12-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautifully Written I learned so much in this book about the Chinese culture and what it was like living during the time of the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square. Very memorable and well written.
Date published: 2016-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Devastating Beauty and Tragedy: Madeleine Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” Such devastating beauty in the elegant writing, the intermingling of literature and music, the simple poignancy of human connections. Such devastating tragedy in the violence of repression, the lost opportunities to create, the rupture of relationships. And the importance of memory, preserving both the beauty and the tragedy. One of the first things that struck me in reading Madeleine Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” was the beautiful writing itself and more specifically her gift for evocative imagery: • Their incompatible love made her feel hollow, as if the world had turned out to be flat after all. • …it was as if the very air shrouded the buildings in paranoia. • …the elongated question mark of his body as he loped down the slippery walks… • He leaned toward the child like a comma in a line so that, momentarily, the child, confused, suspended his wailing… • The landscape passed in waves of green and yellow as if the country were an endless unharvested sea. It’s a gift of vision of both the outer eye and the inner eye. Thien draws into her descriptions concepts and pictures from totally different realms offering to us readers a deeper insight into the character and the scene. There is much beauty in how music and the written word are reflected as two tributaries of the same stream in this novel. They feed into each other becoming something new, and then part and move off on their own though richer now, only to reconnect in a different way later on: Wen the Dreamer’s “Book of Records,” Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” Sparrow’s unfinished “Symphony No. 3,” Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 1,” the poetry of Li Bai and Wang Wei inspiring Mahler to write his song symphony “Das Lied von der Erde” (The Song of the Earth), and Thien’s literary descriptions of music itself: • Yet Zhuli imagined that she could hear her father’s presence in the music just as clearly as if Wen the Dreamer’s name was written on the page. • But what was music? Every note could only be understood by its relation to those around it. Merged, they made new sounds, new colours, a new resonance or dissonance, a stability or rupture. Inside the pure tone of C was a ladder of rich overtones as well as the echoes of other Cs, like a man wearing many suits of clothing, or a grandmother carrying all her memories inside her. Thien beautifully sketches her characters with a fine brush that projects deeply intimate and yet tortured relationships within families including the narrator Li-ling and her mother, Sparrow and his daughter Ai-ming, Sparrow and his cousin Zhuli, Big Ma and her husband Ba Lute, Big Ma and her sister Swirl, and between lovers and would-be lovers especially Sparrow and Jiang Kai. Her writing is so deft that I was never aware of her developing these relationships. I was inside the story from the first page and living with the characters as they tentatively reached out to the other, faltered, fought, touched fingertips, tore up a loved-one’s manuscript, smiled at a sweet gesture and just as quickly averted their eyes. And then there is the multi-dimensional tragedy in “Do Not Say We Have Nothing”. I am a fan of historical fiction such as the novels of Hilary Mantel, Jane Urquhart, Viet Thanh Nguyen. I now add Thien to my list. Through the eyes and experiences of her characters, Thien has graphically and gut-wrenchingly recreated the repression, violence, and social upheaval of Mao Zedong’s attempt to reassert his authority over China’s Communist party through what came to be known as the Cultural Revolution from about 1966 to 1976. I am grateful to Thien for bringing alive a dramatic time in history that affected hundreds of millions of people and allowing me to experience it in the first person, so to speak, through her characters. And that experience is devastating with the forced relocations and separations from family, the shaming and torturing of citizens for what was maligned as “decadent” intellectual interests and artistic competence, the suppression of opportunities to create art, the unremitting attempts at brainwashing, the brutal suppression of dissent that Thien describes graphically in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Sparrow’s inability to compose for such a long period of time during the Cultural Revolution is the most prominent example of the devastating loss that occurs when art that could have been, isn’t. It is not only that he was essentially forbidden to do compose. It was devastating because the repressive environment had silenced the music in his soul. Art was suppressed as well through the closing of the universities and the conservatories and the prohibition to perform works that had not been sanctioned. Sparrow reflects at one point on Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony: • This is a fragment, he thought, of something that once existed but that no longer grows here, like a corn field cut down…you could close a book and forget about it, knowing it would not lose its contents when you stopped reading, but music wasn’t the same, not for him, it was most alive when it was heard. The rupturing of relationships is portrayed by Thien in an under-stated style that ramps up the tension and the pathos to an intensity far greater than had she used a vociferous style. The secret long-term connection between Sparrow and Kai is heart-breakingly written: • “Sparrow, remember the classics that we memorized? The words are still true. ‘We have no ties of kinship or even provenance, but I am bound to him by ties of sentiment and I share his sorrows and misfortunes.’ We’ve waited our whole lives and now the country is finally opening up. I’ve been thinking…there are ways to begin again. We could leave.” • The possibilities before Sparrow, which should have given him joy, instead broke his heart. He was no longer the same person. Finally, Thien’s novel epitomizes the essentialness of memory and the active commitment to remembering. The “Book of Records,” with its dual literary and musical connotation, forms the core of this process of preserving memory. At the meta level, “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” serves the same function…and does so brilliantly.
Date published: 2016-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best Do Not Say We Heve Nothing is one of the five best books I have read this year. The detailed musical references are central to the over all theme which offer an undercurrent of depth to the story of personalities as they navigate the broad historical sweep of historical events and their own internal conflicts. Internal and interpersonal conflicts emerge as large as the vastness of China then spread through generations to Canada's and the United States. Thien's writing reflects a great knowledge of both music and history. This is a must read for the person who loves great literature.
Date published: 2016-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great purchase #plumreview great receipes
Date published: 2016-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love it! Such a good book! I passed it on to a friend who also loved it!
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Okay Not bad but not what I expected after everything I heard about it.
Date published: 2016-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good story to read I love this story by Thien. It is my first time to read a novel about Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Movement!
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Okay Interesting enough but I wouldn't spend this much money on it.
Date published: 2016-11-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from ok nothing to write home about.
Date published: 2016-11-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great I thought this was excellent, it's definitely worth a read.
Date published: 2016-11-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Couldn't get through this I made it about 300 pages into the book, respectably close to the end, but I realized I just had no interest in finishing it.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Meh I read through 50 or so pages, and just couldn't get into it. Maybe i'll give it another go in the future.
Date published: 2016-11-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from excellent fiction just finished reading this book. a good novel focusing the dark secrets of the communist regime on mainland china. especially 6.4 massacre. the cover is not as interesting as their european edition counterparts
Date published: 2016-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent #plumreview Excellent read. Will buy for others as Christmas gift for sure.
Date published: 2016-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a genius in the making I have heard extraordinary thing about this author and her accomplishments. I can't wait to read this book!
Date published: 2016-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from beautifully crafted incredibly written with humour and thought-provoking themes!
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Thien is an incredible writer. This deeply emotional work had me captivated throughout.
Date published: 2016-11-04

Read from the Book

On the 16th of December, 1990, Ma came home in a taxi with a new daughter who wore no coat, only a thick scarf, a woollen sweater, blue jeans and canvas shoes. I had never met a Chinese girl before, that is, one who, like my father, came from real mainland China. A pair of grey mittens dangled from a string around her neck and swayed in nervous rhythm against her legs. The fringed ends of her blue scarf fell one in front and one behind, like a scholar. The rain was falling hard, and she walked with her head down, holding a medium-sized suitcase that appeared to be empty. She was pale and her hair had the gleam of the sea.   Casually I opened the door and widened my eyes as if I was not expecting visitors.    "Girl," Ma said. "Take the suitcase. Hurry up."    Ai-ming stepped inside and paused on the edge of the doormat. When I reached for the suitcase, my hand accidentally touched hers, but she didn’t draw back. Instead, her other hand reached out and lightly covered mine. She gazed right at me, with such openness and curiosity that, out of shyness, I closed my eyes.   "Ai-ming," Ma was saying. "Let me introduce you. This is my Girl."   I pulled away and opened my eyes again.   Ma, taking off her coat, glanced first at me and then at the room. The brown sofa with its three camel-coloured stripes had seen better days, but I had spruced it up with all the flowery pillows and stuffed animals from my bed. I had also turned on the television in order to give this room the appearance of liveliness. Ma nodded vigorously at me. "Girl, greet your aunt."   "Really, it’s okay if you call me Ai-ming. Please. I really, mmm, prefer it."   To placate them both, I said, "Hello."   Just as I suspected, the suitcase was very light. With my free hand, I moved to take Ai-ming’s coat, remembering too late she didn’t have one. My arm wavered in the air like a question mark. She reached out, grasped my hand and firmly shook it.   She had a question in her eyes. Her hair, pinned back on one side, fell loosely on the other, so that she seemed forever in profile, about to turn towards me. Without letting go of my hand, she manoeuvred her shoes noiselessly off her feet, first one then the other. Pinpoints of rain glimmered on her scarf. Our lives had contracted to such a degree that I could not remember the last time a stranger had entered our home; Ai-ming’s presence made everything unfamiliar, as if the walls were crowding a few inches nearer to see her. The previous night, we had, at last, tidied Ba’s papers and notebooks, putting them into boxes and stacking the boxes under the kitchen table. Now I found the table’s surface deceitfully bare. I freed my hand, saying I would put the suitcase in her bedroom.   Ma showed her around the apartment. I retreated to the sofa and pretended to watch the Weather Channel, which predicted rain for the rest of the week, the rest of 1990, the rest of the century, and even the remainder of all time. Their two voices ran one after the other like cable cars, interrupted now and then by silence. The intensity in the apartment crept inside me, and I had the sensation that the floor was made of paper, that there were words written everywhere I couldn’t read, and one unthinking gesture could crumple this whole place down.

Editorial Reviews

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLERSHORTLISTED FOR THE CANADIAN AUTHORS ASSOCIATION AWARD FOR FICTIONSHORTLISTED FOR THE RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZESHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTIONWINNER OF THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZEWINNER OF THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S  LITERARY AWARDFINALIST FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZELONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN FICTION“Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is an elegant, nuanced and perfectly realized novel that, fugue-like, presents the lives of individuals, collectives, and generations caught in the complexities of history. Tracing the intertwined lives of two families, moving from Revolutionary China to Canada, this ambitious work explores the persistence of past and the power of art, raising meaningful questions for our times.” —Governor General’s Award jury citation“Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien entranced the jurors with its detailed, layered, complex drama of classical musicians and their loved ones trying to survive two monstrous insults to their humanity: Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in mid-twentieth century China and the Tiananmen Square massacre of protestors in Beijing in 1989. Do Not Say We Have Nothing addresses some of the timeless questions of literature: who do we love, and how do the love of art, of others and ourselves sustain us individually and collectively in the face of genocide? A beautiful homage to music and to the human spirit, Do Not Say We Have Nothing is both sad and uplifting in its dramatization of human loss and resilience in China and in Canada.” —Scotiabank Giller Prize jury citation“A beautiful, sorrowful work. The book impresses in many senses. . . . Seductive . . . The larger saga unfurls like silk—and proves similarly resistant to knots, a testament to Ms. Thien’s storytelling skills. . . . Virtuoso.” —The New York Times“Thien is a novelist through and through.” —The Globe and Mail“With compassion and meticulous precision, Madeleine Thien explores ordinary lives shaped by extraordinary political events. Like a beautiful and complex piece of music, the narration unfolds in layers, returning again and again to the central themes of family, memory and loss. Thien is a serious and gifted writer.” —Ma Jian, author of Beijing Coma“The tragedy and absurdity of modern China never felt so alive as in Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Thien writes of an extended family of musical prodigies whose loves and ambitions are thwarted at every turn. The meticulous research that went into this novel about real-life events makes it so utterly believable that your heart aches. Thien’s writing is as lyrical as works of Bach and Shostakovich that inspire her musician characters, but her tour de force is the last movement of this symphonic novel in which the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square unfolds at a thrilling, fortissimo pace.” —Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy “This is a resplendent, epic masterpiece of a novel that brings to light a dark period of Chinese history through wit, humour and nuanced storytelling. The characters linger long after the last page.” —Alice Pung, author of Unpolished Gem “Intelligent, powerful and moving. This is Madeleine Thien’s magnum opus.” —Tan Twan Eng, author of The Garden of Evening Mists“Imagination, Nabokov says, is a form of memory. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a perfect example of how a writer’s imagination keeps alive the memory of a country’s and its people’s past when the country itself tries to erase the history. With insight and compassion, Madeleine Thien presents a compelling tale of China of twentieth century.” —Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants“[S]killfully and elliptically told. . . . A colourful cast of characters comes to life. . . . Do Not Say We Have Nothing . . . show[s] Thien at the height of her abilities. . . . 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.” —National Post  “It’s rare to encounter a new literary novel with the sweep and scope of Do Not Say We Have Nothing. It’s no exaggeration to say the reading experience is reminiscent of some of the great Russians: Dostoevsky, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn. . . . There’s a mastery of storytelling here and the book is engaging on every page.” —The Vancouver Sun “[A] gorgeous intergenerational saga. . . . Should any doubt remain, Do Not Say We Have Nothing will cement Madeleine Thien as one of Canada’s most talented novelists. . . . [T]horoughly researched but without the burden of trivia, both riveting and lyrical.” —The Globe and Mail “To say Thien’s characters come to life is an approximation: they are at once so whole and so open that a reader can step into the book seamlessly, watching, shifting as the pages turn. The affinity reaches so deeply that we celebrate their hopes and mourn their losses; a death leaves me crying in my kitchen. . . . [T]hien’s descriptions manage to have at once the lightness of the perfect, obvious observation, and the heft of time and place. . . . My copy is dog-eared through with lines that ring and hold. . . . The novel floats by like a dream of words, a piece of the story, in solidarity with its dreamers.” —Montreal Review of Books“Madeleine Thien . . . strives mightily to decant the tragedy of revolutionary-cum-communist China into a literary epic. . . . That such a diffuse tale should prove shattering serves as testament to Thien’s formidable storytelling skills. The vortex of ideological terror that sweeps up the characters, the harrowing experiences a cruel and pitiless regime foists upon them, and even the potent yet witty prose conveying all this drama sear themselves into your consciousness. . . . Do Not Say We Have Nothing . . . will enthrall just about any reader.” —Toronto Star“[T]hien delivers in spades. She has clearly done years of historical research into the turbulent timelines of twentieth-century China. . . . Thien’s plots are always complicated, but the challenges of untangling them is part of the pleasure. . . . [S]he is creating a memorial for the millions of lives lost, disappeared, shriveled or wasted during not just the years of Mao’s reign but back to the famine of 1910 and forward to the dashed hopes of Tiananmen in 1989. That is some accomplishment.” —Literary Review of Canada“[M]adeleine Thien’s sensitive, effective exploration of how the Cultural Revolution still reverberates in the lives of those who experienced it, as well as their descendants. . . . [T]hien’s polished prose immerses the reader into the lives of classically trained musicians in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. . . . [A] story of love and hope. . . . Thien writes with empathy, even for those who cannot forgive themselves.” —Winnipeg Free Press “Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a serious accomplishment. . . . [A] sprawling work, composed of fragmented narratives, and crammed with indelible characters, horrific events and compelling ideas. . . . [T]hien manages to keep her material firmly in control. . . . This book calls to mind Dai Sijie’s magical Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress in the way literature and music help characters endure exile and re-education. . . . The sound of music is this novel’s most powerful force.” —Maclean’s “Bold, beautiful and profoundly affecting, Do Not Say We Have Nothing celebrates the indestructibility of the individual, and both declares and illustrates the transcendent power of art. An exceptional novel.” —James Scudamore, author of The Amnesia Clinic and Heliopolis“Writing about history in dazzlingly original and lyrical fictional form has been the stock-in-trade of the forty-one-year-old Vancouver-born Thien, and has made her one of Canada’s most critically acclaimed writers. . . . Revolving around two families of musicians living through the often horrifying ructions of twentieth-century China, from the Cultural Revolution to the iconic events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square, the book is both a salutary reminder of Thien’s many strengths and a stunning next-level statement.” —The Gazette “Elegiac and complex. . . . The novel is a gripping page-turner, an instant history of China in the twentieth century.” —The Sun Times