Do Not Say We Have Nothing: A Brief Overview

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a novel written by Madeleine Thien. It is set against the backdrop of China’s tumultuous history, spanning the years from the early 1960s to the late 1990s. The story revolves around the lives of three talented musicians and their struggles under the repressive regime of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Tale of Music and Politics

At the heart of the novel lies the intertwined stories of Sparrow, a composer; Kai, his talented but troubled cousin; and Zhuli, a brilliant violinist. As their personal lives intersect with the political unrest in China, their individual journeys become a reflection of a nation in turmoil.

Award-Winning Masterpiece

Since its publication in 2016, Do Not Say We Have Nothing has garnered critical acclaim and received several prestigious awards. The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of Canada’s most renowned literary awards. Madeleine Thien’s exquisite storytelling and her ability to vividly portray the complex interplay between music, politics, and personal relationships have captivated readers and critics alike.

Characters that Resonate

The characters in Do Not Say We Have Nothing are richly developed and leave a lasting impact on readers. Sparrow’s quiet resilience and unwavering dedication to his music, Kai’s internal struggles between his artistic aspirations and his loyalty to his family, and Zhuli’s unwavering determination to express herself through her violin create a tapestry of emotions that keeps readers engrossed from beginning to end.

A Powerful Ode to Literature

Madeleine Thien’s novel serves as a powerful ode to the role of literature and the arts in times of political oppression. Through her intricate narrative, she highlights the transformative power of music and literature, showcasing how they can defy the constraints imposed by a totalitarian regime, offering solace, and inspiring hope.

Appealing to Literary Enthusiasts

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a must-read for literature enthusiasts interested in exploring the historical and cultural complexities of China through the lens of music and art. Whether in book form, audiobook, eBook, or podcast adaptation, this thought-provoking novel has been well-received by an expansive audience and continues to be highly recommended within the literary community.


In conclusion, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien is a remarkable literary work that explores the power of music, the impact of political oppression, and the pursuit of personal and artistic liberation. Its captivating characters, interwoven with China’s tumultuous history, make for a compelling reading experience that has garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards. Whether enjoying the book, audiobook, eBook, or podcast adaptation, readers are in for an immersive and thought-provoking journey through the sounds and stories of a nation in flux.

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