Armchair Book Club: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Heather Allen explores Madeleine Thien’s new book Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

I was a Pen High student at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. I knew something terrible was happening in Beijing, but didn’t have much context to understand it, or know how to react to the news.

In fact, we were so naïve that our drama class staged a solemn vigil for the Beijing University students during our year-end comedy show. It didn’t go over well. At the time, we thought it was because our audience was callous. Of course, that wasn’t it at all.

How glad I am to finally read a novel that brilliantly contextualizes the Tiananmen Square protests. It’s no wonder that Madeleine Thien’s new book Do Not Say We Have Nothing won this year’s Governor General’s Award, the Scotia Bank Giller Prize, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Ai-Ming arrives at the doorstep of Canadian relatives in 1991, fleeing China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen protests. Her story is interwoven with the story of her family’s struggles in revolutionary China.

Over the years, several relatives were sent to prison camps to be re-educated, others were beaten and abused by angry mobs. Some chose to hide, to commit suicide, or to turn on friends and family.

Through individual family member’s stories, especially three young musicians at the Shanghai Conservatory, the reader experiences each of the different phases of the Cultural Revolution. One day, you could be asked to play violin before Chairman Mao. The next, during a crackdown, you could be killed for simply carrying a violin in public.

Because so many families were separated and put into re-education camps, or forced labour, many were unable to parent their own children. The suffering became generational.

By the time you reach the final chapters, set in Tiananmen Square, you carry the weight of each family’s struggles, and hope beyond hope that the protestors in the square will succeed. It’s like watching someone search for a lost item you know they will never find, but at the same time, you keep hoping they will.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Column: One parenting book certainly doesn’t fit all

Like the fingerprints they are born with – each child is different.… Continue reading

Influx of tourists helping to nurse Penticton’s economy back to health

The city has seen visitors multiply tenfold in recent weeks

Two vehicle crash on Highway 97 in Penticton

The crash happened before 3:30 p.m. in front of the Lakeside Inn and Suites

Pooch abandoned at Penticton doggy daycare suffered from oral disease

A fundraiser for Okie held by the BC SPCA surpassed its goal of $1,700

Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department receives $25k grant

Money used on a truck with low volume, high pressure water pump to fight wildfires

COVID-19: Homeless to be relocated from temporary Okanagan shelter

Homeless shelters in Vernon have been combined into one site at the curling rink since April

Dozens of fish die at popular lake near Chase

A few natural phenomena are possible causes for their deaths.

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

Most Read