Do Not Say We Have Nothing

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

China photo

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 across the Pacific 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. Do Not Say We Have Nothing follows the lives of Sparrow, an accomplished composer, his cousin Zhuli, a talented violinist, and the brilliant pianist Jiang Kai, one of Sparrow’s most promising students. The book tells the tale of the immense loss, the unspeakable violence and the 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.



The Remains of the Day — A Review

Blog Post #25

I was browsing through my book lists on Good Reads looking for a “good read” — ok, ok, I can HEAR your groans! It was a tough decision as there are countless intriguing titles on my Want to Read list. While I was trying to decide, I took a casual look at books I have previously read and I came across this review for “The Remains of the Day.” This was a book I enjoyed immensely when I read it a year ago and I am sharing my Goodreads review here. 

RemaiinsKazuo Ishiguro’s  The Remains of the Day  is an eloquent and moving novel. His writing style is easy and comfortable, and his story imparts a deep range of emotions — both joyful and sad — I fell into the book immediately and hated to be called back from Darlington Hall to my own living room. I was so sad when I finished reading the very last word, sad that the story was ended.

This book is the narrative of Stevens,a stoic English butler, whose one aim in life is to be the best butler he can possibly be, to attain the highest level of service, to have “dignity” above all else. In the opening of the book, he embarks upon a journey in the countryside of England, ostensibly to renew a friendship with a former coworker, with hopes that he can convince her to return to the manor where they once worked together. As the story unfolds, the reader learns a lot about Stevens from his memories and meandering thoughts as he travels through small villages towards his destination. The entire novel is written as if the reader is hearing Stevens’ own thoughts and seeing his own impressions, witnessing the vignettes of the past that have led him to this sojourn. At times, I wanted to reach out and shake him, make him break out of his stoicism…give in to his emotions.

Stevens’ reminiscences are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and at times, achingly sad. His motoring holiday turns out to be an unexpected journey of self-discovery and we, as readers, are an intimate part of that journey. Ishiguro is a master at capturing all the nuances and complexities of the human psyche. There is one specific moment in the book that, for me, was so completely overwhelming — almost unbearably poignant, that it will forever be etched in my heart.

The Remains of the Day is, quite simply, a beautifully written book. Have you read it? What did  you think?

Watch Kazuo Ishiguro talk about The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.


Brynne’s Daily Drawing #25