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Certainty

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  473 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Madeleine Thien's stunning debut novel hauntingly retells a crucial moment in history, through two unforgettable love stories.

Gail Lim, a producer of radio documentaries, is haunted by the mystery of her father's Asian past. As a child, Gail's father, Matthew Lim, lived in a Malaysian village occupied by the Japanese. He and his beloved Ani wandered the jungle fringe unde
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 21st 2007 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2006)
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3.52  · 
Rating details
 ·  473 ratings  ·  73 reviews


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Hugh
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2018
Madeleine Thien first came to my attention when her brilliant third novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker prize. This one is her debut novel, which shows that most of the key ingredients that made it so special were there from the start.

This book is also ambitious and wide ranging - its events span five decades and four continents, from the north of Borneo during the Second World war through to modern Canada.

Once again Thien weaves a complex tapestry of the per
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Tiffany
Sep 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who appreciate the beauty of the written word as an artform
If I wasn't so obsessed with keeping my books in such pristine condition, I would have read this book with a highlighter in hand, ready to set apart those passages that demonstrate the written word as a true art form. There were many, some that moved me to tears, which hasn't happened since I read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, one of my favourite books of all time.

Thien clearly has enormous talent; as stated on the back of the book, Thien has a flair for imagery, and I wholeheartedly agr
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Jonathan Pool
I was at the 2017 Baileys shortlist group reading in London, ahead of the winning book announcement. I overheard the comment that the reading style, body language, and general interaction of the authors with their fellow finalists, and their audience, is a good marker for the writing style that each brings to their craft.
That's certainly true of Madeleine Thien who is such a gentle, giving and sincere person. Certainty , her first novel is a gentle, rather sad, story. It's one centred around lo
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Shawn Mooney
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
Do Not Say We Have Nothing is the best novel I've ever read, so I was interested (and a little nervous) to read this, Thien's debut novel. I loved it so much too! Of course it's not the masterpiece that DNSWHN is, but Thien sensitively explores many of the same themes here: grief, war, and displacement tearing families and psyches asunder, an intercontinental love triangle, a near-indecipherable diary. DNSWHN was no fluke. I'm calling it: Thien is my favorite novelist.
Jennifer
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. The main problem with this book is that it’s overly ambitious. It jumps from character to character, present to past, and country to country to tie together storylines about love, trauma, and unwieldy memories. As a consequence, most of the characters end up flat and forgettable. But the thing that makes this book special is the main “present” storyline, which examines the loss of a young woman with understated, incredible beauty. One of the best portraits of grief I’ve ever read. And ...more
Megan Baxter
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have not always been thrilled by the list put out by the CBC of the Top 100 Canadian Books. I mean, I'll read the whole thing if it kills me, but the list itself was far to heavily weighted towards books that had come out in the five years before it was compiled. And so, many of the books on it have left me a little baffled as to why they're there, other than that they're recent, and it probably pleased the publishers.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodre
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Kyla
Mar 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
Ah - award winning Can Lit. Yawn. If it is multi-ethnic, multi-generational, is written poetically and is dull as dishwater - bring on the Canadian Writing Awards! Of course I love Canadian writing but this is SO completely Can Lit pleasing and not interesting at all. The only bits I liked were the ones set in Strathcona because I recognized the neighborhood.
Natasha Penney
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I adore this book. Although I've just finished it I already know I'll read it again. Thien again works her masterful storytelling and unearthly grasp of both the art of writing and the complexity of human emotion with seamless grace and fluidity. Her stories are complicated, but her characters are breathtakingly vulnerable and accessible. Genius.
Alden
Jul 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bestreads
At its most essential, Canadian writer Madeleine Thien's resonant, richly textured first novel, Certainty, explores questions of how possible it is to know another person, even a person we love, and how to live with that uncertainty.

Beginning in present-day Vancouver with Ansel, a physician wracked with grief and guilt after the untimely death of his 39-year-old partner, Gail, Certainty unfolds through overlapping narratives that follow twining streams of memory to North Borneo during the brutal
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Ruthie
Sep 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, can-lit
After all the discussion about this book on the CBC Goodreads page, as well as other sites I finally got a chance to read it! The novel is beautifully written, tells a compelling story about the war in North Borneo, as well as side side stories about immigration, radio documentaries, and a few love stories. My issue was that I felt very removed from all of the characters because the narrative voice kept changing voices. Despite the love stories I was somewhat unmoved, and that bothered me. I fou ...more
Ebtihal Abuali
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
اليقين

رواية بديعة أمتعتني طوال الوقت.

هي قصص متشابكة تتابع منذ الطفولة حتى الرحيل شخصيتي آني وماثيو الذين كانا ضحايا وحشية وآلام الحرب، ورغم انتهاء الحرب تأخذنا الرواية لنرى كيف يستمر الماضي معنا طويلا وعميقا، مؤثرا في حياتنا وعلاقتنا ويقيننا وتعاطينا مع الحب. وعبر شبكة تمتد جانبيا من العلاقات والأشخاص وتجارب الرحيل (أو الهروب) تغتني الرواية بقصص المحيط الكامل لهاتين الشخصيتين لترسم حياتهما كاملة. وهي أيضا تتحدث عن الموت والفقد، وعن ذلك السفر نحو محاولة معرفة أنفسنا عبر فهم الآخرين.

تسرد مادلين
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Baljit
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
I felt the pace got too meandering and too slow, and the main characters were emotionally disconnected from each other
Nicole A
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book grew on me slowly.
Laura
Aug 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
O poveste frumoasă scrisă prost, tradusă şi mai prost şi cu o redactare aproape inexistentă. M-a iritat la culme traducerea/redactarea, aşa că m-am concentrat cu greu la povestea în sine. Seamănă foarte bine cu Şoapta inimii de Jan Philipp Sendker, doar că pendularea trecut-prezent-imaginar-real este foarte obositoare. Nu am reuşit să-mi dau seama la ce se referă titlul. Oare la certitudinea dragostei dintre doi oameni, dintre părinţi şi copii? Sau la certitudinea că îl cunoşti bine pe cel de lâ ...more
Andrea
Jul 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: for-fun-read
Not worth working through the 300 pages. The book had the potential of being interesting with the need to uncover a mystery and I would even say I liked the way it was written in flashbacks. But the characters were lacking. The were several times where I would stop and ask who are we talking about this time? And the plot with Gail seems incomplete. I feel as though there's more to the story that was forgotten. Disappointed on this one.
Dar
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
A spare and dreamy story that twists in and out of time. I am a quiet and reserved person and I related to the silence and space that the characters in the book held around them. I am very conscious of whether to share things to unburden myself, or to withhold in order not to burden others. I don't know of other books that have treated this theme. The language created beautiful word-pictures and sensations. Such a contrast to the shouty, me-first drama-queen world out there.
Pilvi
Dec 21, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
This was such a boring book. Throughout the book I kept thinking what was the point in the story, but it never occured to me at all. I don't really understand what the writer wanted to tell with this book, so in my eyes it's completely useless. There were some parts that were written nicely, but that's about it.
Ann
Apr 22, 2009 rated it did not like it
I found it hard to pay attention to this book. It was an interesting story but told mostly in flashback. The characters changed so often that I was unable to form much connection to any of them. I do not recommend it.
Stephen
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Talented writer; extremely fluid prose. Compelling story and was pleasantly surprised.
Cathy Austin
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Must give this beautifully written book 5 stars.
A story about remembrance, secrets kept, scars of war, loneliness, love, home. Things that stay the same regardless of the passing of time. Depth of feeling, connection. Sorrow of betrayal. Forgiveness.
Thien covers so much in this book, gives us a lot to pause and to think about.
Main characters friends Matthew and Ani as 10 year olds in Malaysia just before the war is over, 1945. What they see, hear, experience and lose (their fathers, their famil
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Pamela
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was beautifully written, the prose just so clear and singing throughout the book. I had moments of irritation for gaps, or desire for tighter editing, but it is worth reading. Thien is an extraordinary writer.

(view spoiler)
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Jerry Pogan
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the first full novel that Madeleine Thien wrote but the third of hers that I've read. Her books are each based around traumatic events set in Asian history but are written so poetically that the event becomes just the background setting for a beautiful story. The traumatic event for this book takes place during and after Japanese occupation of Malaysia and Indonesia. Thien, also, writes very complicated stories that go back and forth from past and present and involve multiple characters ...more
Claire Belberg
This is the second book I have read by Madeleine Thien. Both employ a staccato structure where point of view, tense, time and geography jump around. The trick is to hang onto the thread that holds them together. She is a clever writer, understated but very evocative. The thread in this novel is, as the title and the epigraph suggest, the struggle to live with and make meaning in the context of life's uncertainties.

The novel takes the reader from Canada in the 2000s, to North Borneo in the Second
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Arlie
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cbc-list
Beautiful and thoughtful. I loved the way Ansel's grief was almost personified - his memories so alive and with him, and yet knowing all the while that they were only memories. I initially thought this book was about grief after a loved one dies; it is also about the grief of leaving a place and a time, leaving a country and saying goodbye. I liked the way Thien portrayed that loving another person can be sad and complicated.

"He kisses her, and she knows, somehow, that he is asking for help, fo
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Ming
Dec 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susan
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
The debut novel by a recent Giller Prize winner. It tells the stories of 2 generations currently living in Vancouver but ultimately revealing the past beginning in North Borneo during World War II. The exploration of grief, the effects on loving relationships of war time survival and the slowly revealing history of the characters is compelling. Having said all that, for some reason I had trouble keeping track of events as the narrators shifted from chapter to chapter. So, I wasn't as engaged as ...more
Brittany
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was Madeline Thien's debut novel, and it sure feels like one. Whats awesome though already previously read some of her other novels I know shes grown as a writer and it was neat to see where it all started.

My only thing is I wish I read this in 1 or 2 sittings because reading it after a break in days left me some times confused. That being said this is a very human story and I still enjoyed it. Now all I have to read is her most recent book Do not say we have nothing and I can't wait!
EsthaL
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it
A very strong start with a poignant tender ending, the only thing that did not work for me was the emphasis on too many characters and storylines. The experience of grief in this book is palpable and in my opinion its strongest part. Thien's writing retains its charming softness and is a joy to read.
John Ray Catingub
Thien's first novel shows her narrative strengths that will be fully utilised in "Do Not Say We Have Nothing". She weaves stories together very well although the result is not as clean and satisfying as it is in her later work. I did not like that some of the threads were not tied up neatly. Otherwise, a very good story.
Annukka
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kaunis ja herkkä kertomus. Kertomus, joka etenee monessa ajassa ja paikassa, mutta tekee sen niin tyylikkäästi, ettei se häirinnyt lukukokemusta.

Harmi, ettei Madeleine Thienin tuotantoa ole suomennettu enempää.
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Madeleine Thien was born in Vancouver. She is the author of the story collection Simple Recipes (2001), and three novels, Certainty (2006); Dogs at the Perimeter (2011), shortlisted for Berlin’s International Literature Prize and winner of the Frankfurt Book Fair’s 2015 Liberaturpreis; and Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016), about musicians studying Western classical music at the Shanghai Conservat ...more
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“When she returned, she was full of life, impassioned. She seemed to want change, within herself, between them, and she believed all things were possible. She said that the past was not static, our memories fold and bend, we change with every step taken into the future.” 1 likes
“She says that she held on to the memory as if it were a touchstone, something that could anchor her. She knows, has always believed, that there is a secret that has coloured her life, her childhood. In the last few months, she has felt as if, day by day, she is losing her footing. There are fissures, openings, that she no longer knows how to cover over.” 0 likes
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