Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, and similar to other experiences when I've learned something for the first time, I am wondering how could I live to be this old and not know much about the history of China? How could I teach so many children of Chinese immigrants and not know much about the history of that country, and how could I have been alive during times of such great turmoil in China and not understand the depth and impact of what was happening there?
To read this book was to enter into the story of multiple generations of a Chinese family who lived throughout China, Hong Kong, Canada, and the United States. To read this book was to consider government's affect on family, culture, the arts, and relationships. It was also an opportunity to think about personality, choice, and family ties.
I must say I ached as I read the book and became very irritable. I hated the scenes of oppression and the evident drive by some to ruin past creations such as music, instruments, homes, and other artifacts--items that took tremendous inspiration and hard work. I didn't like the will to make people act the same rather than be the individuals they are, and I was so saddened by the characters' lack of personal freedom to live and choose to be and do what they desired.
I am one who believes in nurturing people's unique and positive talents, interests, and passions. I marvel at the wonderful traits that people hold and see those traits as gifts to all of us and gifts to focus on, make stronger, and share for the benefit of others. To deny an individual his/her gifts, vision, unique abilities seems cruel and limiting to me because I believe we can all benefit from each others passions and gifts.
I also hated the scenes of blatant hate and harm, scenes where people were tormented for simply being who they were, loving what they loved, and imparting their wisdom, interests, or skills. And I deplored the scenes which showed no compassion or understanding of children--scenes where children were made to see and/or experience harsh realities.
The book made me wonder about how we face hard times as the characters in the story faced the challenges that existed in different ways. The book also made me realize that fate plays a role too--some were able to survive a harsh set of circumstances while others were overcome by that reality.
The story made me want to learn more about China. I want to study the country via a map, movies, more reading, and possibly a visit someday. Further, the story made me consider different types of relationships and now those relationships affect our lives. It was definitely a story that I'll return to again and again in time, a story that opened the door to more learning, wondering, and understanding about China and the many people who have lived there, live there still, and who have immigrated from there.
Most of all the book made me want to work for free countries with governments that respect and uplift the lives of individuals. I will be interested in discussing the book with my son to see what stood out for him and what questions remain as well.