During some of lockdown’s more tedious moments, I have enjoyed distracting myself by reading history books. Transporting my mind back thousands of years, to all corners of the world, and seeing the major challenges that many different people have faced and overcome, has helped me put things in perspective. At the café, it has been great hearing how all our amazing regulars have been getting on and coping with everything. In the coming months I am sure that there will be many newspaper stories and even books reporting on some of the experiences various people have had to go through during this unusual time. Story telling is one of my favourite forms of explaining history. You could just lay out a country’s past by simply stating the facts, but what really makes it more real and personal, is telling these events through the lens of people’s lives.
Madeleine Thien’s book ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ follows the story of China’s civil war, illustrating the consequences that flowed from it in succeeding decades. The novel lays out the lives of musicians and how the events that surrounded the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 affected their lives and the lives of their families. Various generations and their different perspectives on the unfolding events are contained within this book. This makes this read all the more powerful as you hear about many unique personal experiences in the course of the story.
This is an especially harrowing yet beautiful book. Thien shows and explains the great pain and suffering that many people went through, while managing to hint at the beauty that can still be found during these times. The following quote from the book gives a little taste of this, “He'd been thinking about the quality of sunshine, that is, how daylight wipes away the stars and the planets, making them invisible to human eyes. If one needed the darkness in order to see the heavens, might daylight be a form of blindness? Could it be that sound was also a form of deafness? If so, what was silence?”