Book Review – Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989.

It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie.

Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.

Review:

This is another of the novels shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I was quite intrigued as it is set in China telling the story of several generations covering important events in recent Chinese history such as that of the Cultural Revolution and includes events such as that of Tiananmen Square.

First and foremost, I found the book incredibly educational into a culture and history that I knew little about. By following the experiences of the characters, it helped bring the history alive in a way that non-fiction can’t really do and managed to cover a large and complex period of time in a way that was easy and compelling to read.

I was very interested in all of the characters that we follow throughout the story and was very intrigued to learn the connections between the families of Ai-Ming and Marie. Music also plays a very strong role in the novel, with many of the characters being musicians or composers and it references a lot of musical pieces. I do not know much about classical music, however this novel really made me want to expand my knowledge of it and if music didn’t distract me, I would have played the pieces mentioned while reading.

I definitely recommend this novel and have chosen to use it for China in my “Around the World” reading challenge as I feel it fits perfectly.

Book Review – The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

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Goodreads Synopsis:

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Review:

So, this is another of the books I read back in January for #DiverseAThon and I adored it. It took me a while to get around to writing my review just because I found it difficult to describe how much I loved this book. This book also works well as the book for Malaysia in my Around the World challenge which is perfect as I enjoyed it so much.

The book is part historical fiction, part fantasy and the combination works really well.

The thing that definitely grabs you is the portrayal of Malaysia at the end of the 19th century. The descriptions of the setting are beautiful and create a stunning image of life at that time, and from what I’ve seen in other reviews it’s also a very accurate portrayal. Not only is the physical world excellently described, but the afterlife is also very detailed and again, from what I’ve read, accurate portrayal. Through reading this book, I feel I’ve learned a lot and definitely now have a desire to visit Malaysia myself because of how lovingly it was portrayed.

Next up is the characters, who again are all fantastic and feel very real. They all have their flaws, for example Li Lan is very sheltered, but this contributes greatly to the story and seeing them grow is really lovely. There is some romance in the story, and even a love triangle which I usually despise but I actually really liked how it was handled in this story which is a testament to how much I enjoyed the writing.

Plot-wise, I don’t want to say too much as there are a lot of mysteries in the book that are revealed as you read and I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say though that I really enjoyed the story and it gripped me so much that I didn’t want to put the book down!

I’d definitely recommend this book because it is just delightful and I was just charmed by everything about it. It also has a stunning cover and the descriptions are just so fantastic – especially as a lot of the more traditional things are explained for those unfamiliar with the culture.

 

 

Book Review -The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

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So this is another book I read for #DiverseAThon – I picked it up from Waterstones as the cover was just enchanting and as a big cat lover, I couldn’t resist a book about a cat.

This novella follows a couple who have moved into a small guesthouse in Tokyo and both work from home. Their neighbours adopt a cat who slowly starts to come visit them. The story follows the visits of the cat as they get more frequent and as the cat gets more bold until they even start feeding the cat and create a little bed for it.

As a fan of cats, I adored the cat, nicknamed Chibi, in this book and the interactions between the couple and the cat was charming. The book was a delight to read and went into such depth and detail that it was wonderful. The translation was very well done as it still felt very Japanese but that didn’t affect the readability of it. The writing is magical and I absolutely adored everything about this novella and really enjoyed the small snippets of the characters lives that we got to see.

I would highly recommend this novella, especially since it’s quite short so doesn’t take long to read and the cover is gorgeous.