Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Book - 2016 | First American edition
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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: 9780393609882
039360988X
Branch Call Number: F THIEN-M
Characteristics: 473 pages ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Don't say we have nothing

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t
TEENREVIEWBOARD
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

f
FVReader
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.

j
janestream
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.

m
mwongmoon
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.

s
sgcf
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.

t
thepudman
Jan 14, 2018

For all those who hard a hard time finishing the book, sign it out again and finish it! It is a great book, easily in my top ten ever. I agree with another person who posted though - it is too long. I almost gave up, but the story came together in the end.

A book with a high degree of difficulty! It required a lot of reflection afterward, but once you are able to gather all the strands of the story, it becomes a beautiful and moving read.

s
Subreeze
Oct 23, 2017

Hard work

ehbooklover Sep 20, 2017

A meticulously researched, eye-opening book about the cultural revolution in China that was well worth the effort involved in reading it.

f
FloEh
Sep 11, 2017

I got this from the express shelf and it was very much touch and go whether I could finish it in the 7 days + 7 renewal days (but I did it - yay me ;->). At 100+ pages too long, I nonetheless appreciated discovering some Chinese history from an individual family's perspective. I was surprised in the acknowledgement pages that some people were still afraid of being recognized as contributing but then it dawned on me that this was an aftermath of the history related in the story itself - that those who stood up when it seemed safe during the 1989 Tiananmen Square student uprisings being victimized in the quick aftermath.

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