Winner of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and longlisted for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, this extraordinary novel tells the story of three musicians in China before, during and after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Madeleine Thien's new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, 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 in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow's ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai's daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
An iBooks Best of 2016 pick. With stirring prose, novelist Madeleine Thien delivers a clear-eyed examination of the link between historical and personal trauma. Marie Jiang is a thirtysomething math whiz in contemporary Vancouver. Her dad is an absent presence: estranged throughout her childhood, he committed suicide in Hong Kong in 1989. His death coincided with the arrival of Ai Ming, the daughter of a family friend, who escaped to Canada after the Tiananmen Square massacre. The novel—winner of the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award—follows the two women as they use journals to reconstruct the stories and paternal grief that bind them.
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Excellent; very interesting story about China, holds your interest throughput
A brilliant, shining read. One that will make you remember Tiananmen Square and how you should have paid more attention, one that will make you want to listen to Bach and Prokofiev again. Lyrical, emotional and beautiful.
Shortlisted “The Man Booker Prize 2016”. Scotiabank Giller Prize winner. Governor General’s Literary awards winner... what a hype. I had to read it.
This book started so well. It had all the signs of a terrific epic and that it was going to be a very emotional journey. At least that was what I was expecting.
Unfortunately I found the structure hard to follow and I was totally disconnected with the characters (all of them), the whole time. There was no dynamic between them, not even between Sparrow and Kai (and I had big hopes for these two).
I had to go back several times to see if I had missed something because most of the time I did not know where I was in terms of time and place or who was talking. Not once I was touched by the horrible and violent events, not because it was not well described, but because it felt too absurd to grasp, even though those things really happened (we are talking about crucial times in China: the cultural revolution, the Mao’s regime and the massacre at Tiananmen Square). Anyways, I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately it did not work for me.