- Hardcover: 480 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First American Edition edition (October 11, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 039360988X
- ISBN-13: 978-0393609882
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 111 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Do Not Say We Have Nothing: A Novel Hardcover – October 11, 2016
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“A powerfully expansive novel…Thien writes with the mastery of a conductor who is as in command of the symphony’s tempo as she is attuned to the nuances of each individual instrument.”
- Jiayang Fan, The New York Times
“[A] graceful, intricate novel whose humanity threads through it like a stirring melodic line.”
- Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“A moving and extraordinary evocation of the 20th-century tragedy of China, and deserves to cement Thien’s reputation as an important and compelling writer.”
“Extraordinary…It recalls the panoramic scale and domestic minutiae of the great 19th-century Russian writers…A highly suspenseful drama…as courageous and far-reaching as principled resistance itself.”
- Financial Times
“A magnificent epic of Chinese history, richly detailed and beautifully written.”
- The Times
“A deeply profound and moving tale where music, mathematics and family history are beautifully woven together in a poetic story…Full of wisdom and complexity, comedy and beauty, Thien has delivered a novel that is both hugely political and severe, but at the same time delicate and intimate, rooted in the tumultuous history of China.”
“Music is at the center of this ambitious saga of totalitarian China, where classical musicians were persecuted during the Maoist Cultural Revolution…Thien’s intricate narrative slowly lays bare the lives of three musical friends living through a totalitarian era when serious music had to survive driven underground, like forbidden love.”
- Sunday Times
“A splendid writer.”
- Alice Munro
“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
About the Author
Madeleine Thien is the author of three novels and a collection of stories, and her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Her most recent novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. She lives in Montreal, Canada.
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Another modern trend is for stories to occur over periods of decades or more, across generations, across continents and so on. The idea, it seems, is to add weight or grandeur by making the story “epic”. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is also this kind of novel.
Because this novel employs both of these now common techniques, it is not a novel in which nothing happens. In fact many things happen. People appear and disappear. They get arrested and they escape. They move around the world and return. They fall in love and they die. There are tragedies, many tragedies. All about them is history, from the cultural revolution to Tiananmen Square. And, as is also frequently the case these days, there is some element of mysticism or surrealism that acts as yet another device to add moral, spiritual, or intellectual heft to the novel. Indeed, in this swirl of events, sometimes the reader can become confused, which may be intentional.
Yet despite all of these supports and techniques, this novel disappointed me. Ultimately, this book, which wanted to be so weighty, didn’t cause me to think much differently about anything. The characters never seemed particularly real or likely. Stripped away of the book’s devices, the themes didn’t seem particularly original. I was acutely aware of the author at almost all times. Her effort was palpable. Her prose was frequently lyrical but rarely meaningful. She seemed like a competent author attempting to write like she thinks a great author writes, and not quite succeeding.
Finally, the book is long, very long. Length is not necessarily a flaw, but when length doesn’t make the book better, it becomes merely an annoyance. Second, the role of music in the novel is massively overdone. A number of important characters are musicians or composers or both. They talk and think about music constantly and the author continually challenges herself to come up with new ways to describe the sound of Beethoven or Prokofiev or Shostakovich. Mostly these descriptions are ineffective, in part because most readers will not be familiar with many of the pieces.
Madeleine Thein gets high marks for effort, but from a literary perspective she hasn’t accomplished anything that is really noteworthy, in my opinion. I know the prize committees love these kinds of books, and this has all the typical elements of today’s prize-winning novels. This is a very serious book that almost collapses under the weight of its seriousness. For me it was not worth the substantial investment of time.
great use of classical music. A very good read.