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Do Not Say We Have Nothing
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October 2016: Historical Fiction > Do Not Say We Have Nothing - Madeline Thien (barely) 4/5

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message 1: by Nicole D. (last edited Oct 16, 2016 09:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nicole D. | 1482 comments This book was pretty uneven for me. It suffered from what I now call "The Goldfinch" effect, where the author is enamored of something and they want to make us enamored of it, so they drive the point home over and over and over to the degree it becomes irritating. It also gives the book a bit of an air of pretension. In this case, classical music is the culprit. OMG - I get it. But your words can't make me hear the music, no matter how well they are written, so enough already.

There was also a book within a book which is another thing that irritates me. Because everybody just loves this other book, and and it's so important in so many lives, but there was never enough to make it important to me so it just took up space. (and contributed to a trite point at the end, which I'm choosing to ignore.)

Another dead horse in this book were Chinese characters, and calligraphy, and frankly that could have enhanced the story if it wasn't competing with the classical music and the book within the book.

It is a multi-generational sweeping family epic, and it's also historical fiction. It's told non-linear, which is fine. The thing is, there was nothing particularly original about any of it to me except for the setting. I was often confused while reading it (admittedly my Chinese history knowledge is basically nil) and now that I'm done I'm still confused. That may just be me trying to reconcile what I just learned in the context of what I thought I knew.

I didn't know if I was going to finish, but I had bought two copies (one print one audio) so I felt like I needed to give it a full chance, and I'm very glad I did. Because while I struggled through the first half, the second half really picked up for me. About half-way through the 2nd half I was giving it 3, maybe 3.5 stars and by the end I thought it really came together and I appreciated some of the ways things came together.

All in all - worth reading. Award worthy? Not for me. It was just too flawed and structurally unoriginal.


Anita Pomerantz | 6437 comments Ack! That really doesn't sound very 4 starish, lol. Do you think I will like it? You scare me with the words "Goldfinch Effect"!


message 3: by Red52 (new)

Red52 I like that. 'The Goldfinch Effect'


message 4: by Susie (new) - added it

Susie | 4488 comments I am lured by The Goldfinch Effect!


message 5: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen | 1545 comments I LOVED this book and I did not find it flawed or unoriginal but rather quite the opposite.

I will say that I found the beginning a bit slow but it picked up pretty quickly for me. I love classical music and for me that was a big draw of the book. I thought the author was very clever in how she used music to structure her book (with the novel being like movements in a classical piece with different pacing, certain repetitions/motifs etc.

Unlike Nicole I also appreciated the multiple different elements. I liked the way Chinese calligraphy was incorporated into the book and I found it fascinating how words were constructed and how they related to the visual elements.

Was it pretentious? I guess some will perceive it that way. I didn't find it pretentious but I have a higher tolerance for that than does Nicole.

Anita - I'm not sure on this one. I think you'll like it but I also think you might find the beginning a bit of a slog. And I think you're closer to Nicole than to me in terms of your tolerance for what might be perceived as pretentious. It certainly picks up in the second half (like the movements of a symphony -- ending with a fast paced movement).

I read the book while listening to the music referenced in the book and found it really wonderful and enhanced the mood of the book. I think the writing was fantastic. One of my favorite quotes from the book:

"His music made her turn away from the never-possible and the almost-here, away from an unmade, untested future. The present, Sparrow seemed to say, is all we have, yet it is the one thing we will never learn to hold in our hands."


Nicole D. | 1482 comments I have to say, in terms of pretension this book did a pretty good job. It wasn't the nauseating level of pretension.

Where it really punched me in the gut was the Natasha Bedingfield message.

Anita, I think you would find the second half fascinating. I'm not sure you'd get there though


message 7: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen | 1545 comments Nicole- I think you're right. I was thinking about it last night and agree that she will like the second half but may struggle with the first part


Chili Hanson (chilipinkcat) | 110 comments I am anxiously waiting for the library to get this. It's high up on my TBR list.


message 9: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments I nominated this for my book club (I nominate 5 books and the members vote) but I don't think it is going to be selected. Surprisingly, Hillbilly Elegy is winning by a mile, which was unexpected!


message 10: by Joi (new)

Joi (missjoious) | 3812 comments Lol at the Goldfinch effect. That definitely will put people on this book or off of it.


Booknblues | 5789 comments I'm beginning this book now. I hope that I like it more than Nicole.


Michael (mike999) | 569 comments Am exactly at the halfway point and I am impressed with the things Jen mentioned. The experience and imagination behind music felt marvelous after readimg so many books with musician characters and not even an attempt to go there (maybe Bel Canto the only exception. But I also appreciate Nicole's reactions on the book within the book and slow pace. Lives are stuck and destroyed by the Cultural Revolution and the sense of being trapped for a long time is done to convey that oppression. Having interludes with some of the family living in Canada at a later point gives some hope (and worry about missing members). Its a survival story where holding to music is part of source of staying power. I can't believe half the book remains and have no foreshadowing of something unresolved that needs sorting out beyond the potential to live and make music more freely.


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