Madeleine Thien's new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition, even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations - those who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution in the mid-20th century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humor, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
©2016 Madeleine Thien (P)2016 Recorded Books
"This audiobook marries a haunting, compelling story and a memorable performance by its narrator. Angela Lin reads with assurance, confidence, and a gentleness that captures the mood of the story.... Lin also uses her impeccable Chinese language skills to pronounce the names and keywords that dot the text, lending credibility and atmosphere to this lyrical audiobook." (AudioFile)
At the midpoint of this book, I was more puzzled than impressed. The story begins somewhat disjointed and its cast of characters is difficult to keep track of. However, as the story proceeds into the second half, it comes together, the various threads get unified. The main character in the frame narrative is Marie, who serves as the narrator/investigator trying to piece together a past. But the true story is the story of Sparrow, a gifted composer who is devastated by the Chinese cultural revolution. It weaves together his family's story with that of his brilliant student and friend Kai, who escapes to Canada but does not really escape. The story is somewhat plodding through the details of the cultural revolution, but as it moves inexorably forward toward the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989 the story becomes powerful and compelling. There are some remarkable twists in the plot, some beautifully true portraits of characters who live within the constraints that silence them or cause them to bristle.
Because Sparrow, Kai, and Zhuli are musicians, the story draws on many musical motifs; sometimes I felt like there was more there than I was grasping. I'd love to hear a musician's response to this book. Also, the book goes through 50 years of Chinese history and I know little of that. But that was not an impediment to understanding the story or feeling its fundamental truth.
Having now read two of the Man-Booker nominees, I can say that this would have been a much better selection than the Sell-out. Indeed, I think the jury sold out. This book is beautifully crafted, subtle in its writing, and addressing important global themes.
This book really stunned me. It will live with me for a long time. I am amazed at Madeleine Thien's storytelling expertise, and the way she wove the history of the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath through the stories of the extended family and friends at the novel's core. At times, as an audiobook, I occasionally struggled in my attempts to track the narrative arc, because the narrative shifts back and forth between past and present a lot. But despite that small difficulty, I was awed by the book's mastery; it is gigantic and tender at the same time. I think it's a must-read for everyone, particularly in these post-Trumpian times.
I did not finish this book. I was interested in it because of the history. I find the story too hard to follow.
This book had a good story to tell.
It was a Book Club choice, and one member said she had drawn a chart in order to keep track of the characters, there were a lot. Finally she just gave up on the book.
As an audio listener I gave up trying to keep track of who and where I was in the story and just listened. I know I would have gotten so much more from the story if it had been laid out better.
Set in a foreign country with names that were unfamiliar and some that were quite similar to one another compounded the difficulty. This especially when you were with a character in the present and suddenly you were on a journey through their memory.
Wonderfully descriptive settings and characters, but such a struggle to follow.
All the elements were there to make it a four and a half star but at best it was a three.
I had a conversation with a friend who read the book. I had no idea how one could read it, given all the subtleties of the Chinese language that were brilliantly narrated. My friend had no idea how one could listen to it, because it was such a complicated story.
I would possibly try a future book by this author, but not soon.
There was a beautiful scene of a noodle-selling woman who offered hungry student protesters something to eat for free. It was all she had to offer. The tenderness of the exchange and conversation was uplifting in the midst of a confrontation that lacked humanity and decency.
I was struck by the random violence and targeted violence of mobs and political movements that care nothing and know nothing about the lives they destroy. Deep meaningful life is sacrificed for political ideologies and slogans that get repeated but no one really knows what they mean. The fear of being a thinking creative person in times of revolution was palpable. Thien's writing pulls the listener into the dread and danger of daily living without falling into graphic descriptions of violence.
I do have to admit, a lot of the long expositions and explanations of music, math and literature were lost on me. It was not an easy book to follow, but its subject matter and characters will stay with me.
Addicted to Audible!
Literally just finished it, so it's probably too soon to write a proper review. I confess that it took me a while to get into the story -- would probably have been easier with a regular book -- but then I became hooked. I am so moved by the scope of this novel and by the characters, especially that of Sparrow, the composer forced to become a laborer and factory worker during the Cultural Revolution. The book made me sad and angry because of the lives wasted and destroyed by political ideology and mob rule. But I feel as if Ms. Thien has given voice in this beautiful novel to those who were lost and damaged by the Cultural Revolution and the events in Tianmen Square. I thought the narrator did a fantastic job. I have an e-book version of this, so I think I will go back and "read-read" it to soak in all the details. But before that, I'm dying to do some research on the period of Chinese history she writes about -- I visited there three years ago but want to put this story in its historical context. Thank you, Ms. Thien!
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.