Marta Bausells

Bittersweet Symphony

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

By

Granta Books 480pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

In her Booker Prize-shortlisted Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Canadian author Madeleine Thien, the daughter of Malaysian-Chinese immigrants, offers a fresh look at the experience of exile. In Thien’s carefully crafted story, not only is her protagonist, Jiang Li-ling, suspended between two cultures, but also huge portions of history in one of those cultures, the Chinese, have been systematically erased.

In 1991, when Li-ling – or Marie, her English name – is twelve, she and her mother welcome a young girl named Ai-ming into their house in Vancouver. Ai-ming fled the bloody repression of the student protests in China two years earlier, and arrives on the back of a letter from her mother explaining that her and Marie’s fathers had been friends in China. Marie hardly knew her father: he killed himself in Hong Kong in 1989. It immediately becomes clear that Marie’s and Ai-ming’s families are linked by a fate that runs parallel to the country’s political developments. As the girls’ relationship deepens, Ai-ming unveils for her melancholy friend the intricate world of their respective ancestors.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,