Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien / Jul 24, 2019

Do Not Say We Have Nothing 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

  • Title: Do Not Say We Have Nothing
  • Author: Madeleine Thien
  • ISBN: 9780345810427
  • Page: 314
  • Format: Hardcover
  • 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 becMadeleine 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.

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    About "Madeleine Thien"

      • Madeleine Thien

        Madeleine Thien was born in Vancouver She is the author of the story collection Simple Recipes 2001 , and three novels, Certainty 2006 Dogs at the Perimeter 2011 , shortlisted for Berlin s International Literature Prize and winner of the Frankfurt Book Fair s 2015 Liberaturpreis and Do Not Say We Have Nothing 2016 , about musicians studying Western classical music at the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s, and about the legacy of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations Her books and stories are published in Canada, the U.S the U.K and Australia, and have been translated into 25 languages Do Not Say We Have Nothing won the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the 2016 Governor General s Literary Award for Fiction, and an Edward Stanford Prize and was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, the 2017 Baileys Women s Prize for Fiction, and The Folio Prize 2017 The novel was named a New York Times Critics Top Book of 2016 and longlisted for a Carnegie Medal.


    1. My endless quest to discover quality books written by women of color from around the globe has lead me to the writing of Madeleine Thien. Thien is a Malaysian-Chinese living near Montreal and has previously written a novel and short story collection. Do Not Say We Have Nothing won the Governor General Prize for 2016 and was short listed for the Man Booker Award. An epic novel using music as a background, Do Not Say We Have Nothing follows three generations of Chinese revolutionaries to detail ho [...]

    2. Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.A young Chinese girl (Li-Ling), whose English name is Marie, is living with her mother in Vancouver when a relative from China appears at their door: a teenage girl named Ai Ming who seeks refuge after the student occupation of Tiananmen Square. Ai Ming unearths a collection of notebooks written by Marie's deceased father, among which is the Book of Records - a story handwritten by Ai Ming's father. With Ai [...]

    3. Once again: Many Thanks to modern technology and the Public Library! I was nervous about reading this book last year. The low reviews feed into my own insecurity that this book would become too complicated and I'd get frustrated. The high reviews kept nagging at me. Actually Michael's review inspired me most!!! Rather than purchase the book, I downloaded the ebook from the library from the comfort of home. There were times when reading Madeline Thien's novel, I found myself remembering two other [...]

    4. A very powerful story, beginning with the cultural revolution and it's effects on one family, followed through to the next generation. A family that is in love with music, Sparrow the composer, young Zhuli, a musician, Kai a closer friend also a composer/musician, all at the Shanghai composer, all will be caught up in its destruction with horrifying results. Starvation, separation, the camps, people turning on people, brutality, it is all here. Following one family lets us thoroughly get to know [...]

    5. 5 "profound, elegant, eloquent, devastating" stars !! Unexpectedly, she sang a line of notes, and the music, as natural to her as breathing, contained both grief and dignity. It seemed to expand inside my thoughts even as it disappeared; it was so intimate so alive, I felt I must have known it all my lifeA wonderful quote to begin my brief review as it is close to expressing the entirety of my experience of this most extraordinary book. Extraordinary is one of those overused adjectives and yet h [...]

    6. This is a novel of epic scope and ambition, a complex family story that starts in the China of the 1950s and ends in the present day. The pivotal events are the Cultural Revolution, and specifically the destruction of the Shanghai Conservatory and the denunciations of the musicians there, and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and their violent aftermath. There are also many other themes - largely musical but also some intriguing digressions on Chinese writing and mathematics. Thien's charact [...]

    7. I started this book as a review copy eBook, and finished it with the print from the library (which I think we got from the UK based on the cover art.) This book is complex and I really enjoyed it. I suspected it could win the Man Booker Prize based solely on its description, and I was not disappointed. I am a sucker for music discussed in fiction, so the central theme of music really did the trick for me. I discovered only later that many of the characters and events surrounding the conservatory [...]

    8. Do you love music? Are you perhaps a musician? How would you react if music were taken away from you, if you were no longer able to listen/play/compose? Imagine a world where musical instruments are destroyed and musicians face back breaking or mind numbing menial labour which will ruin their sensitive hands… This novel resonates with music even when music is systematically being destroyed.Imagine being a reader, a poet, a writer and your words are taken from you…This is the world faced by, [...]

    9. A moving family saga that portrays the lives of three generations through the post-war decades in China. The story interlaces different time points with a focus on the crucial periods of Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1969-1977), set mostly in Shanghai, and of the time of the massive demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and their brutal suppression (1989-1990). Like good historical fiction it does bring the cultural and political paroxysms of these times alive through engaging characters, [...]

    10. I think there's always one book on Man Booker Long List that requires me to get a piece of paper and draw a family tree so that I can try to keep track of the relationships between the characters. I had to do that here and it's quite a demanding read not only because of the number of characters but also because the narrative jumps around in time following 3 generations through 3 momentous periods of Chinese history.Earlier this year, I read The Four Books when it was nominated for the Man Booker [...]

    11. There is much to admire in what Thien tried to do in this 2016 Booker- shortlisted novel, and judging from the laudatory reviews, she must have succeeded. Personally, I struggled against the style of this novel, which I found cloying, despite the fact that different members of one family each had pieces of the story to tell. I have yet to find the author who can tell me a Chinese fiction that I really enjoy, except for classics like the Outlaws of the Marsh (Water Margin) and Journey to the West [...]

    12. Hugely surprised this did not win the Booker Prize. If, like me, you know next to nothing about China’s Cultural Revolution and the transition from Chairman Mao to successive leaders, you will learn so much. There is no denying the power of its portrayal of history. In addition, I was consistently impressed by the book’s language. Thien incorporates Chinese characters and wordplay, musical bars, and snatches of poetry and folk songs. That said, I didn’t always find this easy reading. The f [...]

    13. I can see why some readers love this book. The story of two (interconnected) Chinese families in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square-protests, in China, Hongkong and Canada, is certainly interesting enough. My main problem was that I didn't find the writing style appealing (and at times rather bad), and I had a hard time connecting with the characters and their lives' story, as heart-wrenching as they may be.It didn't help that 30+ pages of my book were missing (and another 30+ pages were doub [...]

    14. Gosh this is boring. An interminable story with characters you cannot tell apart who are supposed to be fictional ciphers for a real life fictional family in Canada. Heaps of musical references and if you love Bach you might get them, but I don't. Also, interspersed with Chinese writing and poems that don't seem to add much. Creating something this dull from such an exciting period of history is an impressive achievement that has rightly been recognised by the Booker judges.

    15. "As he played, he remembered standing on the round tables of the teahouses back when he first imagined that all the world was a song, a performance or a dream, that music was survival and could fill an empty stomach and chase the war away."This is the kind of book that wins awards - a multi-generational family saga, epic in scope and aspiration. Through the lens of several memorable characters, it brings to light a crucial period in Chinese history. It's a very ambitious novel. Maybe a little to [...]

    16. Three generations in China, presented against the backdrop of three pivotal historic events: the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the Tiananmen Square protests (1989). The three events were featured in the story with increasing detail. The Great Leap Forward had only passing references. It was a tragedy of mismanagement at a national level which resulted in the starvation of millions. There were more details on the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, where [...]

    17. This book took me forever to get through. It was written in a really dense language that didn't appeal to me, and the storyline (or storylines, I should say) were intricate and hard to keep track of. This is a story about the Chinese revolution of the 1960s and about all of the horrible things that took place. It's told from the perspective of one-two families, through many generations, and it's told in a 'framed story' narrative which makes it necessary for you to really focus in order to keep [...]

    18. I think this book needs to be read slowly and savoured. It is very slow to start off with and somewhat confusing (it really would have benefited from a character list/family tree!) but perseverance pays off and overall I found it a rewarding and moving read. The scope is epic - Chinese history from the Great Leap Forward through to the Tiananmen Square massacres- told through the story of two interlinked families. There are many fascinating insights and gems along the way, particularly in relati [...]

    19. This is a sweeping, multi-generational, non-linear epic of a story. It starts in China in the late 1960's and goes to present day. It is complicated and wonderful and my personal favorite to win the 2016 Booker Prize. These characters really got under my skin and I will be thinking about them for a long time. This is a book that I would like to reread at some point because there are just so many layers.

    20. Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say we Have Nothing has totally captivated me from beginning to end and even now, more than a couple of weeks later, many of the novel's characters have stayed with me, their conversations and reflections are influencing my own. It is impossible for me to capture the many facets of this deeply moving and multi-layered, expansive canvas of a novel. Madeleine Thien's exquisitely conceived and beautifully written work is set against the background of six decades in Chinese [...]

    21. This is a compelling family saga spanning three generations set in one of the most tumultuous and inglorious periods in China’s recent history. It is an ambitious novel that attempts to express the heartbreaking experiences of the characters in times of painful afflictions in the abstract language of classical music. I’m giving this novel 4.3 stars. As a total layman to the field of classical music, I am not in a position to judge whether the author’s attempt has succeeded or not. But as a [...]

    22. If I didn't speak Chinese, I would probably have rated this very accomplished novel a 4 or even a 4.5. Unfortunately the extremely basic and strange errors in Thien's usage of Chinese, reducing a living language to mere decorative Orientalist flourishes*, left an increasingly bad taste in my mouth in light of the novel's serious (oh, and it's so, so serious) moral claim to bearing witness (from its fundamentally distanced tone through to the fussy endnoting of song lyrics FGS) and championing of [...]

    23. “Jiang Kai,” she said spitefully, “now I understand. I'll forget Prokofiev. I'll play the 'March of the Volunteers' and 'The Internationale' for all eternity. The old world shall be destroyed. Arise, slaves, arise! Do not say that we have nothing. That should win me the Tchaikovsky Competition and please everyone, you most of all.”I remember having read this article on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests (back in 2014), and the point that impressed upon me most of all i [...]

    24. Five stars don't do this book justice. This is what true literature should be: never sacrificing plot at the altar of language, but also never letting plot get in the way of language either. It is books like this one that give me faith in literature. It also the reason why I continue looking forward to the Man Booker prize every year. Without it I might have never found this gem.

    25. Oh dear oh dear . It is with sadness I have decided to hit eject on this novel - the first I attempted from the 2016 Man Booker Shortlist. The scope of this novel is impressive as it sets a multigenerational saga amongst the political backdrop of China over a period encompassing almost the last 100 years. It feels like an important novel but as a general reader I was just not up to the task of the musicality in this - there is poetry and classical music interweaved in a complex story that hops d [...]

    26. This book demands to be read slowly, perhaps best summarised by a single sentence in chapter 2.“And even when I answered him in my impeccable Canadian accent, he continued with the slowness of the ages, until I, too, felt my pulse slow, and time became relative, as the physicists have proved it was, so perhaps Ai-Ming and I are still seated there, in a corner of the restaurant, waiting for our meal to come, for a sentence to end, for this intermission to run its course.”The book is an epic s [...]

    27. This complex and moving story is really slow to start and only gradually morphs into something mesmerizing. It almost lost me in the first 100 pages with what appeared to be a fable or fantasy told to the young narrator, Marie (Li-Ling), by her (second?) cousin Ai-Ming. And I found the mix of traditional names with Thien’s idiosyncratic ones – the sisters Swirl and Big Mother Knife, and her son Sparrow (Ai-Ming’s father) for example – quite jarring. There was also protracted philosophica [...]

    28. This is the type of book I think of when I hear "Man Booker Long List"!Told from the present-day perspective by Marie, this saga spans decades and generations but is centered around the lives of 3 classical musicians in China, Sparrow (Bird of Quiet), Kai and Zhuli. I was completely captivated by the storyline which included these three characters. At other times, however, I felt like I was plodding through the book and am still not sure I followed all of the familial relationships in the story. [...]

    29. I was actually rather dreading reading this, the 12th of the Booker longlist from this year I've now read- a nearly 500 page novel on the Chinese Cultural Revolution? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Kill me now! However, although the politics play an integral part of the story, it never overwhelms one who has just a very rudimentary knowledge of the past 100 years of Chinese history. Not having much knowledge or affection for either classical music, nor mathematics, which are the other salient topics, [...]

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