Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Thien's (Certainty, 2007) new novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, begins in a blur of confusion and death. The narrator called Ma-Li, Li-Ling, or Marie, depending on who's addressing her has lost her beloved father at the age of 10. The circumstances of his death are baffling; all she knows is that, after leaving his family in Vancouver to return to his native China, Jiang Kai has committed suicide for reasons she cannot glean from the barely understood, long-distance conversations her overworked, long-suffering mother has with friends and family back home. Then, just as mysteriously, a young woman named Ai-ming arrives from Beijing at the apartment she and her mother share. Ai-ming's presence has something to do with the fraught student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, and something to do with Li-ling's father, but Li-ling doesn't know much more than that. At first, the child resents the young woman's presence in her small home, but soon enough, Ai-ming wins her over with stories about her family and their close connection to Jiang Kai. And what stories they are! Here, the story opens up from a child's fragmentary understanding of her immediate and painful surroundings to an omniscient and riveting account of an extended family's joys and struggles under Chairman Mao. Along the way, we are introduced to indelible characters with invariably fantastic names Big Mother Knife, Sparrow, and Old West, to name a just few and fully realized, uniformly captivating story arcs. We are treated to engaging philosophical analyses of samizdat, both of words and of notation, and of how the music of Bach, Shostakovich, and other Western composers affects people living in a place where even ghosts are illegal. We also learn how the components of Chinese characters in different dialects enhance the meaning of the words they represent and imbue them with confusion and a kind of magic. Magic, too, is how Thien manages to bring these disparate elements together without making heavy weather of it. The novel is never not immersive, nor anything less than brilliant. All its words are necessary. The book is a bonanza for fans of Richard Powers.--Williamson, Eugenia Copyright 2016 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In Thien's luminescent third novel (following Dogs at the Perimeter, which won the Frankfurt Book Fair's 2015 LiBeraturpreis), stories, music, and mathematics weave together to tell one family's tale within the unfolding of recent Chinese history. Beginning in 1989 in Hong Kong and Vancouver, this narrative snakes both forward and backward, describing how a pair of sisters survived land reform, re-education at the hands of the Communists, the coming of the Red Guard, the Cultural Revolution, and the protests at Tiananmen square. The story is partially told by the central character, mathematics professor Marie Jiang (Jiang Li-ling), as she discovers her late father's past as a pianist, which was left behind and concealed when he left China for Canada. Thien takes readers into the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where Marie's father studied with composer Sparrow and violinist Zhuli in the midst of the cultural upheaval in the 1960s. Filled with intrigue, shifting loyalties, broken families, and unbroken resistance, this novel is beautifully poetic and as carefully constructed as the Bach sonatas that make frequent appearance in the text. Thien's reach-though epic -does not extend beyond her capacity, resulting in a lovely fugue of a book that meditates on fascism, resistance, and personhood. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.