In China, you learn a lot from what people don’t tell you: Madeleine Thien

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At breakfast in Vancouver just before her adopted sister disappears forever from her life, 11-year-old Marie, AKA Ma-li, forlornly submits to being consoled with a wordgame. She discovers that the Chinese ideogram for the verb “to arrive” is made up of the radical for “tree” and the word “not yet” : “Arrival is a tree that is still to come.”

There are many translation games in Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien’s powerful Man Booker-shortlisted novel: the difference between a world that is settled and secure and one that is constantly imperilled is enshrined in such fine conceptual differences of written language. In Thien’s China, the thing that should have arrived is always still to come, whether it involves a missing person, a secret message or a better future. Read more


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