Day 1178: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Cover for Do Not Say We Have NothingBest of Five!
When Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was so popular, I was not a fan. I disliked how the two male college students patronized and abused the girl, even though she won through in the end. I also vaguely felt that the events of the Chinese Cultural Revolution were being trivialized, even though I was not really sure about the facts. Reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing confirmed that I was right.

Marie is a young immigrant Chinese girl living in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1991. She and her mother are confused and grieved, because after the family escaped from China, her father, Jiang Kai, first deserted them to move to Hong Kong and later committed suicide.

Marie’s mother receives a call from China, from Ling, the wife of Jiang Kai’s beloved teacher, Sparrow. Ling says that her daughter, Ai-Ming, has had to leave China because of involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests, but she has missed the amnesty offered by the U.S. Ling asks that they give Ai-Ming a home.

Ai-Ming becomes an older sister to Marie. She tells her stories about her family—her great uncle, Wen the Dreamer, who courted her aunt Swirl with chapters from a forbidden book called the Book of Records; her grandparents, Big Mother Knife and Ba Lute, wandering musicians; and her father Sparrow, a composer of music. Ai-Ming tells of the days of her father, her cousin Jhuli, and Marie’s father, Jiang Kai, at the Shanghai Conservatory. Shadowing all their lives is the Cultural Revolution and its horrible excesses—murder and exile of intellectuals, forced denunciations of relatives, ransacked homes, humiliation and ruining of the innocent.

At first, I was irritated by the style of Ai-Ming’s story, which feels a little like a fairy tale, but it was not long before I was completely absorbed in it. The novel is a heart-rending tale about identity, music, love, and political destructiveness. This was another excellent book that I read for my Man Booker Prize project.

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5 thoughts on “Day 1178: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

  1. Carmen February 15, 2018 / 1:26 pm

    Excellent review! I have this book on my wishlist to buy when its price comes down.

    • whatmeread February 15, 2018 / 1:28 pm

      Thanks! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  2. Naomi February 15, 2018 / 3:51 pm

    When I wrote about this book, I had no idea how I could succinctly sum it all up, but you have done such a good job of it in so little space! I’m glad you liked it. It really becomes all-absorbing, doesn’t it?

  3. buriedinprint February 16, 2018 / 10:45 am

    This is one which I loved as well. It kept me company for quite some time, and I missed it when it was finished.

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