Do Not Say We Have Nothing
In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming.
As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao's ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China's relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming - and for Marie.
Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.
An epic and resonant novel about the far-reaching effects of China's revolutionary history, told through the stories of two interlinked musical families, from the 1940s to the present day
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016
“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
"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 The Vagrants
“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