Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien

In Canada in 1990, 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 Shangahi 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.

Madeleine Thien is the author of the story collection Simple Recipes (2001) and the novels Certainty (2006) and Dogs at the Perimeter (Granta, 2012), which was shortlisted for Berlin’s 2014 International Literature Award and won the Frankfurt Book Fair’s 2015 LiBeraturpreis. Her books and stories have been translated into 23 languages. Her essays have appeared in Granta, the Guardian, the Financial Times, Five Dials, and Brick, and her story The Wedding Cake was shortlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. The daughter of Malaysian-Chinese immigrants to Canada, she lives in Montreal.

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