Blog Post #365
“What happens when a hundred thousand people memorize the same poem? Does anything change?
~ Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Madeleine Thien’s novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, is a sweeping saga of revolutionary China covering Mao Zedong’s rise to power to the 1989 student protests at Tiananmen Square and through to present day Vancouver.
This complicated multi-generational story chronicles a dark, era in Chinese history, where friends and families turned on each other in a frantic effort to save themselves from China’s cruel regime. It was a brutal time for the people, especially students, artists and musicians — a time when their very existence was threatened by their resistance to conform.
Central to this story are historical events including the destruction of the Shanghai Music Conservatory, the vilification of the musicians and teachers there and the Tiananmen Square massacre. Don’t Say We Have Nothing follows the lives of Sparrow, an accomplished composer, Zhuli, his cousin, and a talented violinist and Jiang Kai, one of Sparrow’s most promising students, a brilliant pianist. The book tells the tale of immense loss, unspeakable violence and cruelty that gripped the lives of the Chinese people for over forty years.
Thien expertly weaves together family history, music and math to explore the depths of human emotion that enable us to survive tragedy and loss — even to hold on to love and self no matter the obstacles we face.
The novel follows the characters through the decades as each survives the devastation in their own way. The story travels back and forth in time, moving from Shanghai to Beijing to Vancouver, chronicling the history of the families.
In this novel, Ms. Thien exposes us to great insights into the history of China. With beautiful writing, a compelling story and memorable characters, the author takes us into the dark inhumanity of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution — retelling a story that must not be forgotten.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing is noteworthy novel, haunting, dark, and beautiful in its complexity. Well worth the read.