Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

Tomorrow begins from another dawn, when we will be fast asleep.

Remember what i say; not everything will pass.

China and its history, though fascinating and brutal, has also been a dangerous one to tell. In this book, author has combined music, mathematics and family to describe and define the revolution, that seems to rock China’s every generation – basic premise of each revolution remains the same – the deaths, suicides, repercussions, brutality, denunciations; only the format changes from red army going door to door to find the bourgeoisie and sending people for re-education to demonstrations in Tiananmen square and the world condemned massacre. “Everyone said that the foreign newspapers were reporting a massacre in Tiananmen Square, but she had been in the Square. She has seen the students walk away. Didn’t they know the tanks had come from the outside? Didn’t they know about the parents, the workers, the children who had died?”

Marie or Li-Ling in Canada, is ten years old, when her father, who had left them a few years ago, commits suicide, in HongKong. Marie and her mother are provided a sudden reprieve in form of Ai-Ming, who arrives from China, a fugitive. Ai-Ming is instrumental in bringing the history and life of Kai (Marie’s father) along with her. Though, Ai-Ming leaves for America within a few months, the two girls are bonded, by the shared history of their fathers.

Marie, in her mid-thirties starts on the quest to find Ai-Ming, who seems to have disappeared. The main search, though unfulfilled till the end of the book, takes the main protagonist to places, to people who have come across her father and her bonded friend / sister. The book is not about the search nor is it investigative, it is a narrative of three generations who have lived through different formats of cultural revolution in China – some survived and some didn’t. It is a story of the impact, of the lives taken and lost, of words and opinions that never got voiced and of abandoned dreams.

Language is rich (and musical) and characters deep and, in a way satisfying – neither perfect nor hateful. This magnificent insight into China’s civil war will make you sit back and think – things we take for granted – small freedoms, small happiness – which would mean the world to someone else somewhere else.

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