Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016) winner of Scotiabank Giller Prize. Photo: Courtesy of Knopf Canada.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Madeleine Thien receives praise for latest book Do Not Say We Have Nothing

On Nov. 7, Madeleine Thien, University Of Ottawa’s very own writer-in-residence, won the highly prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The prize, awarded to the top Canadian writer of the year, was given to Thien along with $100, 000 for her most recent novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

According to the Giller Prize website, the jurors of the award were entranced by Thien’s “detailed, layered, complex drama of classical musicians and their loved ones trying to survive two monstrous insults to their humanity: Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in mid-twentieth-century China, and the Tiananmen Square massacre of protesters in Beijing in 1989.”

By winning this prize, Thien’s novel beat out eleven other exceptional Canadian works on the longlist of submissions.

When asked about how it felt to have won the award, in an email to the Fulcrum Thien admits that “it hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’m very happy for the book.”

Along with the win of the Giller prize, Do Not Say We Have Nothing was also nominated for the shortlist of the Man Booker Prize and won this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language Fiction.

While this was the first time that Thien had been awarded the Scotiabank Giller Prize, it was not her first novel.

Thien is also the proud author of a collection of short stories titled Simple Recipes (2001), and two novels, Certainty (2006) and Dogs at the Perimeter (2011).

Thien describes Do Not Say We Have Nothing as being different from the other works, as it is “more Dickensian, and more of an epic” whereas her past writings “have tended to be more distilled, more slender.”

In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Thien delves into some of the most deeply questioned parts of the human character. Thien explains that the novel is, “about art, music, and revolution in 20th century China. But more than that, it’s about fidelity and loyalty, how people make art, or choose silence, or if it’s possible to forgive oneself. It’s about the desire for utopia coupled with the inescapability of history.”

Despite the differences between this most recent work and her past stories, Thien clarified that each story is “part of one larger trajectory and body of work.”

When asked about her future, Thien told the Fulcrum that “my next steps are always the same. To keep thinking and writing, to keep imagining.”

As the 2016 writer-in-residence for U of O’s English department, Thien also acts as an advisor for students and Canadian writers looking for direction.

So if you’re a budding writer looking for a mentor or someone to bounce story ideas off of, drop in during Thien’s office hours at Hamelin Hall.

While you’re at it, check out the critically acclaimed Do Not Say We Have Nothing, available at Morisset Library.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper