Do Not Say We Have Nothing / Madeleine Thien

Title / Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Author / Madeleine Thien
Publication Date / 2016
Overall Star Rating / ★.5
Goodreads synopsis: In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie. Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.


I want to immediately say how wonderfully crafted this book is. I had my eye on this book for a while and then I saw Marisa (aka little spider 9) had loved it so I decided I had to pick it up. This book contains an epic tale of love, friendship, music and revolution. It is artfully crafted with fantastic writing and an amazing attention for details. It did take me a little while to get into it, but I attribute that to Thien being a new author for me. I think it also took a little time to figure out who’s who and how the characters are linked. The characters are all so well written – they are intricately made, flawed and complex. The complexities of the characters is one of it’s main strengths. The plot is engrossing and heartbreaking at times. Following one family throughout this tumultuous time means that we can really get to know them and see clearly how it has affected them.My only issue is a small one and it is that Marie’s narrative was perhaps a little less compelling. At times I would find myself hoping to get to the past narrative. Having said that I never felt that the plot dragged or got boring and I found this to be an engaging read that had me hooked early on.


One of the main things I loved in this book was the use of music and how it can affect people. As a past musician (I played the oboe when I was younger) I appreciated the inclusion of music in the story. I haven’t read a lot of books that have used music as a main theme so I very much enjoyed it in this book. Another thread throughout this story is the book of records. So two of my favourite things (books and music) are used as major themes in this book. The level of detail is another strength of this book – you can really tell the level of research Thien has done. It was only until after I read it that I found out that Thien was woven history into the plot. I didn’t know anything about the events this book is based on but I learnt alot from reading it. I had no issues with understanding the story so I would say you don’t need any prior knowledge, but it may help to get a deeper understanding. I would say that this book has made me want to learn more about this time as I found the book very interesting.


Overall this was a fantastic book and as I have already said I would highly recommend it. I can definitely say it deserved to be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2016. This was my first book by this author, but after this I will be keeping an eye out for any future books by her and check out some of her other books. I know this is quite a short review but I wanted to express some of my thoughts as I thought this was a wonderful book. I hope you guys don’t mind. Have you read this book? What did you think? I hope you are all having a wonderful day and I will see you next time.






3 thoughts on “Do Not Say We Have Nothing / Madeleine Thien

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s