Winner of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and longlisted for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, this extraordinary novel tells the story of three musicians in China before, during and after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Madeleine Thien's new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, 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 in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow's ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai's daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.
First Chapter or Excerpt
On the 16th of December, 1990, Ma came home in a taxi with a new daughter who wore no coat, only a thick scarf, a woollen sweater, blue jeans and canvas shoes. I had never met a Chinese girl before, that is, one who, like my father, came from real mainland China. A pair of grey mittens dangled from a string around her neck and swayed in nervous rhythm against her legs. The fringed ends of her blue scarf fell one in front and one behind, like a scholar. The rain was falling hard, and she walked with her head down, holding a medium-sized suitcase that appeared to be empty. She was pale and her hair had the gleam of the sea. Casually I opened the door and widened my eyes as if I was not expecting visitors. "Girl," Ma said. "Take the suitcase. Hurry up." Ai-ming stepped inside and paused on the edge of the doormat. When I reached for the suitcase, my hand accidentally touched hers, but she didn't draw back. Instead, her other hand reached out and lightly covered mine. She gazed right at me, with such openness and curiosity that, out of shyness, I closed my eyes. "Ai-ming," Ma was saying. "Let me introduce you. This is my Girl." I pulled away and opened my eyes again. Ma, taking off her coat, glanced first at me and then at the room. The brown sofa with its three camel-coloured stripes had seen better days, but I had spruced it up with all the flowery pillows and stuffed animals from my bed. I had also turned on the television in order to give this room the appearance of liveliness. Ma nodded vigorously at me. "Girl, greet your aunt." "Really, it's okay if you call me Ai-ming. Please. I really, mmm, prefer it." To placate them both, I said, "Hello." Just as I suspected, the suitcase was very light. With my free hand, I moved to take Ai-ming's coat, remembering too late she didn't have one. My arm wavered in the air like a question mark. She reached out, grasped my hand and firmly shook it. She had a question in her eyes. Her hair, pinned back on one side, fell loosely on the other, so that she seemed forever in profile, about to turn towards me. Without letting go of my hand, she manoeuvred her shoes noiselessly off her feet, first one then the other. Pinpoints of rain glimmered on her scarf. Our lives had contracted to such a degree that I could not remember the last time a stranger had entered our home; Ai-ming's presence made everything unfamiliar, as if the walls were crowding a few inches nearer to see her. The previous night, we had, at last, tidied Ba's papers and notebooks, putting them into boxes and stacking the boxes under the kitchen table. Now I found the table's surface deceitfully bare. I freed my hand, saying I would put the suitcase in her bedroom. Ma showed her around the apartment. I retreated to the sofa and pretended to watch the Weather Channel, which predicted rain for the rest of the week, the rest of 1990, the rest of the century, and even the remainder of all time. Their two voices ran one after the other like cable cars, interrupted now and then by silence. The intensity in the apartment crept inside me, and I had the sensation that the floor was made of paper, that there were words written everywhere I couldn't read, and one unthinking gesture could crumple this whole place down. Excerpted from Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.