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

Paperback | July 18, 2017

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Madeleine Thien's internationally acclaimed, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel now available in a beautiful trade paperback. 

     Madeleine Thien's new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition. 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. 
     At the centre of this epic tale 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's first book of fiction, Simple Recipes, won four awards in Canada and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Her novel Certainty was a national bestseller, won the First Novel Award, and was a Globe and Mail Best Book. Her second novel, Dogs at the Perimeter, was also a Globe and Mail Best Book. ...
Title:Do Not Say We Have NothingFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:480 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 1.3 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5.2 × 1.3 inPublished:July 18, 2017Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345810430

ISBN - 13:9780345810434


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Historical and emotional I too thoroughly enjoyed this book. I've been fascinated by China ever since reading Forbidden City in school. The characters in Do not say we have nothing are richly developed. The plot is fascinating and remains with me to this day. #plumreview
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful story The characters were real, damaged and good at heart. They lived in horrible times that caught them in a lifestyle mess where they had no control on any aspect of their lives. A powerful story of a horrible time, showing human resilience and determination. I enjoyed the use of music to flow throughout; it was another character. The music showed discord, harmony, strife and was always looking for a way to work as a whole and to bring serenity, joy and hope into the piece.
Date published: 2018-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A beautiful piece of art I absolutely adored this novel and savoured it over the course of several weeks. The writing is dreamlike and lyrical as we follow Marie, a Chinese-Canadian woman learning the secrets and history of her family as they live through the Cultural Revolution of China. Fans of classical music will especially enjoy this novel.
Date published: 2018-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A work of art I was born in China, and grew up in Canada. I have been living in Canada for more than 10 years now, and yet, I still find myself intensively interested in the Chinese history. It talks us through the cultural revolution, and even though I wasn't born at that time, but my parents have, and my parent's parents have. My mother was involved in the TianAnMen protest but luckily she wasn't effected that much, unlike other people. This type of memory are erased in the Chinese history books, and forgotten by the younger generations. Especially the sons and daughters of Chinese immigrants that are so vastly spread throughout the world. We see people talk about the civil wars of the US and the suppression of the blacks, but we don't see people talk about how people from the same race, the same country, split up, and driving each other to death. we don't see how thought and knowledge are murdered under this conflict. We don't see the lives secretly executed and the people who have to live on, pretending that nothing happened. As a music student, I find it suffocating while reading this paragraph from this novel: "... I had the sensation that, as we paraded triumphantly across Vancouver, the first movement was being create not by Beethoven, but by my father. Hist hand moved in the shape of 4/4 time, the cliff-hanging thrill between the fourth beat and the first, and I wondered what it could mean that a man who had once been famous, who had performed in Beijing before Mao Zedong himself, did not even keep a piano in his own house? That he made his living by working in a shop? In fact, though I begged for violin lessons, my father always says no. And yet here we were, crossing the city embraced by this victorious music, so that the past, Beethoven's and my father's, was never dead but only reverberated beneath the windshield, then rose and covered us like the sun." It is truly a beautiful tale.
Date published: 2018-06-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Did not finish I think I may have just personally not connected with this book but for whatever reason I could not get into it and did not finish it. For whatever reason I did not feel connected to the characters or the plot and found it difficult to follow along with. I am a pretty seasoned and regular reader and yet I found this book very difficult to understand.
Date published: 2018-04-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Did not finish I did not finish this book as I found it very hard to follow. It jumped back and forth and the names were quite confusing. I felt that there should be larger sections devoted to one character and then move on to another, that might have helped. The style of writing seemed quite fragmented
Date published: 2018-04-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful Story A beautiful tale of China's old and new history. This novel intertwines events from early years of China's change to modern day. Wonderful characters. It's a tearjerker! A bit slow at beginning, but don't give up! Can be a little confusing, but you'll get the hang of it a few chapters in. Will surely read again.
Date published: 2018-03-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I could not finish this book There are a lot of characters and each character has two or more names, which is a bit complicated to keep track of at times. I didn't care for the way the way the story jumped around from one character in the early 1990s all of a sudden with no warning to another character in the 1940s to the 1960s and back again, it was really frustrating. It would have been more enjoyable if the book was separated into chapters when going to one generation and character, or at least a heading before a paragraph, rather than leaving the reader really getting into with one character to jumping to another and by the time the author goes back to the other character/decade you forgot what was going on with them and so on. If this review sounds frustrating and complicated, well thats how this book is at certain times. It was a very slow, frustrating at times and somewhat boring read for me.
Date published: 2018-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from beautiful and chilling a wonderfully crafted novel that will bring you to tears
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful I loved this book. She has such a unique, dreamy style of writing, and I could not put this book down. If you've ever studied music, you will probably appreciate the way music is worked into the story.
Date published: 2018-02-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Beautiful and gifted story-telling. Talks about the Cultural Revolution and the consequences it had on the socioeconomic environment. Great read.
Date published: 2017-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A beautiful story This was the first novel I read by Madeleine Thien. Without a doubt she is a truly gifted story-teller with a unique voice.
Date published: 2017-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Compelling read We are all familiar with the horrors of the Cultural Revolution in terms of deaths, major events, and its longstanding economic consequences. However, this poignant book focuses on how social capital was affected--the breakdown of families, friendships, and other beautiful relationships that were irrevocably damaged as a result of a disastrous political campaign. The book is painfully honest in its portrayal of humankind's capacity for destruction, yet elusive in providing any answers, compelling the reader to wonder, "why, for what?"
Date published: 2017-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful and Interesting Book It took me a while to pick up this book, but once I did - I could not put it down and I had no regrets. While I typically do not like the use of poetry in novels, it was used perfectly here and did not take away from the plot at all. I also did not find the jumping around through time as a distraction - and liked all the stories equally. For me, it was so interesting to read about something I did not know very well - the characters were well written and relatable. Highly recommended and well deserved recognition.
Date published: 2017-12-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great loved this book. I read up on the Cultural Revolution after this book to remind myself how awful the situation was.
Date published: 2017-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I could not put this book down Chinese history and the period of the Cultural Revolution in China have always been of interest. This book, although heartbreaking at times, provides an understanding of the impact this period in time had on the Chinese people and their families, both in China and those living abroad. Highly recommended read.
Date published: 2017-10-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good read Great historical insight and delivery.
Date published: 2017-09-15
Date published: 2017-09-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Four stars An emotional journey through 20th century China.
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Story This is an amazing book that is 100% worth the read! So heart-wrenching and honest, a great portrayal of history and amazing character development.
Date published: 2017-08-05

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