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Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Updated: Feb 12, 2019


A mostly disappointing read: thematically heavy-handed, poorly paced, and suffused with a debilitating sense of fatalism, to the point that characters’ actions and motivations—despite illuminating historical injustices—don't make much sense on a human level. These thinly-drawn protagonists, who are each defined by little more than his or her relationship to music, bear witness to China’s painful political history but are ultimately overshadowed by it. Throughout, Thien leans on excessive exposition, broad rhetorical strokes, and too many poetic monologues that all sound the same. This is a book that asks many questions and answers few, leaving readers with a story that has the semblance of profundity but no real insight or emotional resonance. I admire Thien’s ambition, but this sprawling, agonizingly repetitive novel left me more frustrated than moved.