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Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016)

de Madeleine Thien

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MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaMencions
1,0604915,570 (3.98)213
"In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old."Master storyteller Madeleine 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 and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming's father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli, were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China's political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.… (més)
Afegit fa poc perquavmo, Samallama, biblioteca privada, MC_Rolon, sapphire525, Kiwi_des_neiges, JD2022, jeredee, Carmentalie
  1. 00
    Darkness at Noon de Arthur Koestler (charlie68)
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    The Beauty of Humanity Movement de Camilla Gibb (charlie68)
    charlie68: Takes place in the same area of the world and has similar themes.
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» Mira també 213 mencions

Es mostren 1-5 de 49 (següent | mostra-les totes)
It was the best book of 2018 for me. In fact, it was so good that I read in September, and then in December 2018 started reading it again.

For some unfathomable reason I felt I needed this story in my life again, I needed Zhuli, and Sparrow, and Kai, and Marie, and Ai-ming, and all of its profound sadness.
And sad it is, painfully so. Sometimes when I was on my way to my reading nook, anticipating an hour or so of a quiet reading, I would remember which book exactly awaited me, and every time it broke my heart a little bit, because I knew what kind of story was there.

Partly, I think, it was so painful for me because it hit too close to home. I too was born in a communist state, my country too went through a horrible totalitarian regime (and still does, in a way, though in its 'lighter' version). The heartbreaking story of the communist China was much too similar to the story of my country in the 20th century, and too many people suffered and were lost forever here too. We also used to scream out the political slogans about our bright future and destroying the past, we used to hate and ruin our neighbours for having slightly more that we had, we believed in one crazy fantasy after another, forgetting (or not being able) to actually live for ourselves and just be human.

And no matter how many times I read about stuff like that, I always, still, feel this all-consuming fury at the country (whichever country it is) that at some point decided that it didn't exist for its people but the people existed for it. That they were nothing more than means to get whatever the hell the idiotic state decided it wanted to have.

But I digress.
The book is full of music and I know nothing about music. None. Nada. Ok, maybe something of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, because they are part of my culture, but still i'm mostly illiterate when it comes to classical music.

Anyways, for the first time round (for the first read it is, in September) I was too lazy to look up the musical pieces the author mentioned. I just kept reading on.

This time round I'm in no haste to get to the end anymore, so I pace myself and I actually LISTEN. And oh my god, it's like ten more layers opened up for me (each one sadder than the other) that I never knew were there.
The music really complements the story, guiding you emotionally through the feelings of our characters and different moments in their life.
One particular moment comes to mind right now. It's when Marie visits China and listens with Tofu Liu to that one existing record of Zhuli and Kai performing "From the Homeland". The first time I read it - I just read it. I understood how sad it was for Marie to listen to those long gone voices, to miss the father that would never return, to cry over their lost youth and shattered hopes. I realized all that, I did.
But this time, I also put the record on.
And I cannot tell you just how much it broke my heart, just how much it broke me. I didn't just understand all those things mentioned above - I felt them. In a way it was a horrible experience, but it made the book so, so much more deep and real and scary and amazing and universal and did i say real?..

I wouldn't say everyone must listen to the music mentioned in the book, I know it's often almost impossible to pause especially when the book is so, so captivating. But, I guess, if you have patience or you have time or you too read it for the second (or seventh) time, then maybe try to have the music accompany the story.
It will break your heart though, it definitely will. ( )
  alissee | Dec 8, 2021 |
I could not get into this book, read 75 pages then I gave up.
  janismack | Sep 25, 2021 |
4.0 stars
Started off slow, but I really got in to it. I have recently been listening to a lot of classical music, and this tied right in to that. Well written and thought provoking. Gave me a much better understanding of China in this time period. ( )
  curious_squid | Apr 5, 2021 |
Fascinating. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
I picked up this book mainly because of its first line. One of the most powerful & beautiful first lines I’ve read in a book: “In a single year, my father left us twice,” spoken by Li-ling, or Marie who was living in Vancouver with her mother. In coming to terms her father’s suicide, a whole history of two families are unravelled, & along with them the heavy history in which they were inevitably tangled in. When Marie was younger, Ai-ming, a young woman escaping from the crackdown of the Tiananmen Square massacre came to live in their home. Both their fathers had loved each other, & it is this history that ties them together. Ai-ming would later go on to leave Vancouver & Marie would never see her again.

This is a sprawling book charting the memory & trajectory of 2 families in 3 generations as they live (& died) through key moments in China’s modern history — the great leap forward, the cultural revolution, the June 4th massacre, until today, when the party retains its image of communism while the country is also the navel of global capitalist production & surveillance technology.

I have to admit thought that I was quite tentative about how these political events were written about & it’s quite telling that friends from China did not quite appreciate its approach. I didn’t have this feeling with Han Kang’s “Human Acts” for e.g when she wrote about the Gwangju Massacre. I don’t really know how to articulate it.. perhaps it’s this discomfort we have when intensely political events are the backdrop of a story that is written about so aesthetically & beautifully, & in a way that is aligned with the politics of western liberal audiences.

The narrative & prose is very beautiful & considered as Thien’s prose is known to be. There is a running theme of great individual loss ultimately unseen by the larger narrative of history.

“What was a zero anyway? A zero signified nothing, all it did was tell you nothing about nothing. Still, wasn’t zero also something meaningful, a number in and of itself? In jianpu notation, zero indicated a caesura, a pause or rest of indeterminate length. Did time that went uncounted, unrecorded, still qualify as time? If zero was both everything and nothing, did an empty life have exactly the same weight as a full life? Was zero like the desert, both finite and infinite?”

So many people & their complexities are snuffed out throughout the novel, & it is portrayed in expectedly tragic form, especially with Zhuli’s suicide after the great trauma & violence she faced under the hand of red guards.

The people in the novel took great pains in order to preserve whatever, whoever they loved during these times. Wen the dreamer, Ai-ming’s great-uncle, had one of the most beautiful narratives in this novel (but of course.. it’s a love story). The Book of Records is a serial-type novel that he copies out by hand & had left behind chapter by chapter when he was courting his future wife Swirl. Later, when Swirl travelled great distances in order to find her husband who had escaped from a prison camp, she would print hundreds of copies of the book & place them in bookshops around the region he had escaped & left clues in the text as to where to find her.

After Wen the dreamer & Swirl were reunited, he wanted to continue the story in the Book of Records in an attempt to commit to pages the history of those who had died in the prison he was in. I had wondered if this book was a kind of intertextual, meta-fictional reference to the Thien’s novel itself & what it was perhaps attempting to do

"He would populate this fictional world with true names and true deeds. They would live on, as dangerous as revolutionaries but as intangible as ghosts. What new movement could the Party proclaim that would bring these dead souls into line? What crackdown could erase something that was hidden in plain sight?"

Chapters of these book of records will go on to be kept by Ai-ming’s mother in their house in Vancouver, the collection incomplete. It is because of these book of records, in part, that parts of their histories have not been cast up into forgetting. One of the main narratives of the novel is the deep companionship & love between two musicians Kai and Sparrow (oh the music in this book! I listened to the songs as I read sometimes.. what an experience. Classical music lovers would love the abundant references in the book. SO much of it). They were tied together by their love for music but had markedly different class backgrounds, which led to rather different decisions, and personal struggles when it came to where their allegiance may lie during the cultural revolution period. Kai grew up poor, & had only survived because he was taken away from his family into a professor’s home due to his gift for music.

These were musicians who loved each other but were separated due to where their political allegiance lied. In fact, Sparrow did not really even express an allegiance, he simply refused to fully accept the demands of the party, a demand that was too much — the denial of a person’s very self, the denial of expression of their own desires. Instead, they were only allowed to express what was permitted, to deny their own fulfilment if it was not in conformity to the party’s own aims. But anybody could be subject to the torment, there was no safety even if you had pledged yourself to the party.

But, child, when you’ve seen as much as I have, you realize the die is cast. The so-called ‘enemies of the People’ are the ones whose luck has run out, nothing more. One day the traitor is Shen Congwen, the next Guo Moruo. It they want to come for you, they will come, and it doesn’t matter what you read or what you failed to read. The books on your shelves, the music you cherish, the past lives you’ve lived, all these details are just an excuse.

Sparrow, the more talented of the two, would while away 20 years working in a radio factory while Kai performed for dignitaries & enjoyed a position in the party. Later, when Kai left China for Hong Kong, he would write for Sparrow to join him so that he could help Sparrow play music again. They wrote back & forth like this, with Kai always trying to find sparrow through the years, trying to coax him back to doing what their political circumstances had denied him. But Sparrow never made it to HK, having died in the June 4th massacre. And shortly after, Kai committed suicide. It’s implied that the two events are connected.

There was a bathos in having Kai’s daughter Li-ling (Marie) try to find each Sparrow’s daughter (Ai-Ming), just as Kai once searched for Sparrow, & just as Zhuli’s mother once traversed across the desert to find her Husband, Wen the dreamer. And there was bathos in how Marie tried to do this by sending out thousands of messages, poems, and songs into the deep, vast web in China, in hopes that Ai-ming might see it, & try to contact her, just as Swirl had once copied out hundreds of chapters by hand & left them across bookstores hoping that her husband might chance upon just one & use it to find her.
  verkur | Jan 8, 2021 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 49 (següent | mostra-les totes)
Skillfully and elliptically told..At times, however, the ambitious scope of this novel bogs down its writing, sometimes feeling like a history lesson in disguise. Dialogue is weighed down by background information, with unnatural monologues whose prime purpose is historical exposition. Here, Thien’s writing loses the subtlety and elegance for which she has become known, and I found myself yearning for the more streamlined approach she took in Dogs at the Perimeter, a novel equally far-reaching in scope but focused on fewer characters and subplots.

Nevertheless, there are many sections of Do Not Say We Have Nothing that show Thien at the height of her abilities...With unflinching clarity, Thien examines the strange, frightening psychology of mass violence in this period and how countless lives were lost as a result. It falls to music, art and literature to salvage fleeting moments of beauty from the ruins of history, the lives of the dead.
 
Do Not Say We Have Nothing cements Madeleine Thien as one of Canada’s most talented novelists... Although ostensibly a historical novel about two of the most significant moments in recent Chinese history, Thien has written a supple epic about that which remains behind after each new beginning. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is thoroughly researched but without the burden of trivia, both riveting and lyrical. I’m reminded of a few words from the American poet Lyn Hejinian: “And we love detail, because every detail supersedes the universal.”
 

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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Madeleine Thienautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Leroux, CatherineTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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"There are a thousand ways to live. Just how many do the two of us know?" Jhang Wei, The Ancient Ship
"Of all the scenes that crowded the cave walls, the riches and most intricate were those of paradise." Colin Thubron, Shadow of the Silk Road
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For my mother and father and Katherine and Rawi
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In a single year my father left us twice.
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"In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old."Master storyteller Madeleine 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 and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming's father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli, were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China's political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.

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