Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

A Novel

eBook - 2016
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"In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old."Master storyteller Madeleine 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 and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming's father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli, were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China's political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.
Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 2016
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780393609899
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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From Library Staff

Marie endeavors to piece together the story of her fractured family's past and its connection to her friend Ai-Ming, uncovering information about how both women's fathers were forced to reimagine their identities during Mao's Cultural Revolution.

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Aug 26, 2019

Tea & Talk Book Club / May 2018

Jul 22, 2019

This book is a masterpiece like no other.

Apr 22, 2019

A beautiful and very poetic novel that I enjoyed reading very much. A great way to learn about China's history while going through very important topics: emancipation, freedom, love... Music, mathematics, poesy, literature and action accelerate and slow the story that mixes times and generations. Beautiful!

Jan 23, 2019

Prose. You will be swept away to 20th century China with this novel's lyrical writing.

JessicaGma Dec 16, 2018

A really interesting 'history' of contemporary China where Mao's reforms turned everything on its head. Marie recounts her family history in the effort to find her cousin. It's a slow moving story but very intriguing.

Jul 24, 2018

This book started off with prose, an exquisite storyline filled with music and bold characters, and in the end I couldn’t finish it out of sheer boredom. I knew that this would be a slow paced novel, but there’s a limit. The characters failed to leave a lasting mark on me, and if I’m being brutally honest: I don’t even remember what transpired in the novel. That’s just how unaffected I am by this story of demonstrations and full-length pages of musical descriptions. Initially, the story had enough intrigue to keep me invested, but it was too long and dreary. When I finished, I took a big sigh of relief.
- @jewelreader of the Teen Review Board of the Hamilton Public Library

Jun 28, 2018

I really enjoyed this read. 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.
I think this novel did a good job in showing the hardships and uncertainties of living in such a regime and of drawing the reader in, making them care for these characters, to show the fear and uncertainty that citizens faced every day.
I enjoyed the use of music to flow throughout. 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. Music can be interpreted in different ways by each individual; just as the Mao regime could be. Music is heard when played; one cannot turn off one's ears.....just as the situation in China is lived and cannot be stopped.
A powerful story of a horrible time, showing human resilience and determination.

Note: the situation of "work assignments" and tearing families apart reminded me of the Residential School situation in North America but on a larger scale. In both situations, families are torn apart and family members are left lost, alone, confused, frightened and emotionally scarred in a way that continues through the generations. It's an utterly horrible situation, no matter where it happens.

Jun 27, 2018

I found this multi-generational saga to be educational and endearing; it even brought tears to my eyes at a few points in the story. Not only that, it piqued my curiosity on the subject and led me down a few wikiholes to find out more about certain things mentioned in the book such as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Chinese political refugees to Canada, and Glenn Gould who's music features throughout the novel.

Jan 22, 2018

Read this book twice and LOVE it. The second reading was very worthwhile and I appreciated it even more than the first time, partly because I could keep the characters and history in my mind. Beautiful writing style. Extremely interesting to read about life in China from the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. So Tiananmen Square was much more than what happened in the Square itself. Fascinating to read about all the classical music, and noteworthy that Madeleine Thien comes back to classical music and mathematics in both this book and Certainty. Great descriptions of aptitude for math because of "a good memory and love of poetry". Another interesting comment about infinity, as in Certainty.

Jan 15, 2018

This is a brilliantly written epic of a heart-wrenching era in China’s history, from the repressive Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, through Mao’s cultural revolution, through Tiananmen Square to the present. The characters are achingly real, so fully fleshed that I wanted to believe it was nonfiction. But a family tree diagram would have been helpful. Strong themes of music throughout, and the re-writing of stories over decades (like history re-written over centuries). It’s full of mysterious unknowns and is seemingly unfinished …the way time itself is unfinished. A marvel, though I wish it had been condensed by about 100 pages.

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