Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

By Madeleine Thien

  • Release Date: 2016-05-31
  • Genre: Literary
Score: 4.5
From 72 Ratings
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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.


  • Does it get better?

    By foodfairy
    I am about 2 hours into the audiobook and am bored. Does it get better? Is this a character study or is there EVER any action?
  • A masterwork!

    By Sweetlo686
    A brilliant, shining read. One that will make you remember Tiananmen Square and how you should have paid more attention, one that will make you want to listen to Bach and Prokofiev again. Lyrical, emotional and beautiful.
  • Captivating

    By KHPH
    On the surface it is the intertwined story of generations of a family. Somewhat deeper it is a story of love of friends and family. At its core, it is the search for personal freedom. Incredibly well written in English with a Mandarin primer to create an under current of cross cultural understanding. Music and mathematics intertwined to add intellectual interest. All combined in an incredible and compelling story. There are few books as rich as this. I am grateful to the author for allowing me to inhabit the world she created. K Hugh Ham