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SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016
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.
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'To communicate the emotional depth of [the world the novel depicts] is an achievement, to do it with such an elegant touch is startling... both main tales are equally enchanting... Do Not Say We HAve Nothing reminds us what fiction can do for the truth' -- New Statesman
Best Books of 2016, selected by AM Homes, Observer
'Epic in scope and delicate in detail' --Peter Kemp, Best Books of 2016, Sunday Times
'A moving story of idealism, silence and music' -- Brian Donaldson, Hottest Reads of 2016, List
'Thien's writing has a symphonic quality; motifs repeat and intertwine, crescendoing to the events of 1989. Language and music become a means of transcending ideology. Restrained, courageous and profound, Thien's novel bears witness to a period the true history of which remains contested' -- Lettie Kennedy, Observer
'A powerful third novel [...] Thien takes this history [of the Cultural Revolution] and weaves it into a vivid, magisterial novel that reaches back to China's civil war and up to the present day... The fragile dreams of Thien's characters run in counterpoint to the disordered cruelty of the Maoist politics, with Glenn Gould's two recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations running through the novel like a soundtrack of suffering and redemption. This is 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' -- Isabel Hilton, Guardian
'Extraordinary... Thien's beautiful 450-page epic [is] a living, breathing organism [...] as finely plotted as one of the suppressed symphonies of Sparrow [who] is the sorrowful soul of the book, an understatement of abandoned ambition and thwarted emotion. [Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a] work of fiction as concerned with the expression of beauty as it is with brutality... It recalls the panoramic scale and domestic minutiae of the great 19th-century Russian writers... A highly suspenseful drama; as measured , intoxicating and tragic as Zhuli's violin playing; as courageous and far-reaching as principled resistance itself' -- Catherine Taylor, Financial Times
'A magnificent epic of Chinese history, richly detailed and beautifully written' -- Kate Saunders, 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' -- Kate Whiting, Herald
'Music is at the centre 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' -- Phil Baker, Sunday Times
'Compelling... a piercing blur of fiction and history' -- Emily Rhodes, Spectator
'A deeply profound and moving tale where music, mathematics and family history are beautifully woven together in a poetic story... Full of wisdom, 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... [Thien is] a master storyteller' -- Heather Doughts, Press Association
'A powerful and fascinating novel, recently nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It's worth your time' -- Anna Fielding, Emerald Street
> 'A layered and delicate slow burn saga of recent Chinese history... It would be a worthy [Man Booker] winner' --Anthony Cummins, Daily Telegraph
'A brilliant [...] meditation on language and memory set over half a century of Chinese history' -- Claire Armitstead, Guardian
'Powerful... inspired by the tragedies of Communist China... [A] deeply felt story' -- Observer
'Powerfully expansive... 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' -- International New York Times
'In this book, a new generation will find a masterful literary treatment of Mao Zedong's tyranny... This soulful tale captures the inner world of the creative mind, that which is most feared by the Communist regime... Thien captures that power in all its sadness and joy' -- Deirdre Conroy, Sunday Independent
'The haunting story of musicians who suffered during the Cultural Revolution in China. It's also a chilling warning of what happens when anger towards the elite is pushed too far' -- Sophy Ridge, New Statesman
'[A] magestically epic novel... [This] ambitious novel spans fifity years of China's history recounting the heartrending impact the political system has upon a fascinating artistic family... Do Not Say We Have Nothing builds to the agonizingly brutal instance of the student protests in Tiananmen Square. Having experienced the lives of the family through all the social and political developments of the country preceding this tragedy, its context and meaning is brought much more vividly to life. It shows the complexity and enormous scale of the protest... This novel is a tremendously enlightening and immersive story told with great skill and poetic beauty' -- Eric Anderson, Lonesome Reader
'An epic, complex and challenging novel of great depth and scope' -- Little Life of Books blog
'[Do Not Say We Have Nothing] vibrates with and along musical notes... the musical descriptions sway and flow through the book, just as they flow through the blood of their characters. Amidst pointless cruelty, devastation and sadness, music perseveres, if only in their hearts and memory... Thien [...] delivers her most ambitious book yet. In intricate detail, she has crafted an epic family history in one of the most turbulent times of recent Chinese history. The book has deservedly recently been shortlisted for the Booker prize. It is a powerful, beautifully written family saga' --Books and Socks blog
'Madeleine Thien is a serious and gifted writer. With compassion and meticulous precision, she 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' -- Ma Jian
'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 thriling, fortissimo pace' -- Barbara Demick
'Intelligent, powerful and moving. This is Madeleine Thien's magnum opus' -- Tan Twan Eng
'Imagination, Nobokov 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 20th-century China' -- Yiyun Li
'This is a resplendent, epic masterpiece of a novel that brings to light a dark period of Chinses history through wit, humour and nuanced storytelling. The characters linger long after the last page' -- Alice Pung
'Bold, beautiful and profoundly affecting, Do Not Say We Have Nothing celebrates the indestructibility of the individual, and both declares and illustrates the transcendent power of art. An exceptional novel' --James Scudamore
Madeleine Thien is a Canadian short story writer and novelist. She was educated at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. In 2001 Madeleine was awarded the Canadian Authors Association Air Canada Award for most promising writer under age 30. Thien's first book, Simple Recipes (2001), a collection of short stories, received the City of Vancouver Book Award, the VanCity Book Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her novel, Certainty, has been published internationally. It won the Amazon.com / Books in Canada First Novel Award and was a finalist for the Kiriyama Prize.
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