Do not say we have nothing (Madeleine Thien)

This book was our Book Group pick this month. It starts in Canada with the arrival of a Chinese teenage coming to the home of a second generation Chinese girl (10 years) and you would be forgiven for thinking that the story is going to be one of the integration of an outsider into “normal” society. Instead you are taken into a rich, complex, gripping reflection on China’s cultural history, told through the eyes of a group of young people whose talent for music takes them into the Conservatory.

I had Wiki open next to me for the first few chapters to help me work out who was who, who was real and who not, who was related to whom and how. It helped.

I was a new mum in 1989, thought myself politically aware and vaguely interested in the Tianenman Square protest as it happened (April – June) but had no idea of the lives of people involved, the cultural forces at work in China, the grip that the Gang of Four held on the minds and dreams of the people over such a vast area.

Madeleine Thien is a brilliant writer. Her words sparkle across the page. The clash between East and West, Right and Left, parent and child are all explored with wit, affection, intelligence and compelling insight.

It made me want to weep for the loss of dreams, for the awful, awful turning of the cultural wheel. The death of dreams, the dreadful stasis of fear. The mob, the overwhelming mob.

It is a long book and needs to be read when you really have time to get going with it (book group members who can only snatch 20 mins or so for themselves found it a little daunting) but it rewards the investment.

Awards and honours

  • 2016 Man Booker Prize, shortlisted.
  • 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, won.
  • 2016 Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction, won.
  • 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, longlisted.
  • 2017 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards – Writing with a Sense of Place, won.
  • 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, shortlisted.
  • 2017 Rathbones Folio Prize, shortlisted.

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