Without the musician, all life would be loneliness. -IRJE #4

For my Independent Reading Journal, I have chosen a quotation from the novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing , written by Madeline Thien. This book follows a ten year-old Chinese-Canadian girl named Marie. The story initially takes place in 1990, but the time varies as her family invites a guest into their home. Ai-Ming is young woman who has fled China, following the Tiananmen massacre. Marie befriends her guest, and together they recount the history of their families, following many different eras from Mao Zedong’s reign in the 1940s, to the very event that caused Ai-Ming to flee in the first place. One particular focus in the book is the power of music, and the emotions it can invoke. This particular quotation is from Ai-Ming recounting the story of a young man named Sparrow, who is living in 1949, nearing the end of the Chinese civil war.

      She gave him a single pear syrup candy. “This will keep your voice sweet,” she whispered. “Remember what I say: music is the great love of the People. If we sing a beautiful song, if we faithfully remember all the words, the People will never abandon us. Without the musician, all life would be loneliness.

Sparrow knew what loneliness was. It was his cousin’s small corpse wrapped in a white sheet. It was the man on the sidewalk who was so old he couldn’t run away when the reds came, it was the boy soldier whose decapitated head sat on the city gates, deforming and softening in the sun. (p. 30)

I really enjoy this quotation, because it shows how much music affects Sparrow. It displays what images come to his mind, in a world of loneliness, without music. Another reason I enjoy this excerpt, is because of how it can also be interpreted as inspirational. The first, minimal piece of dialogue by Big Mother Knife has the power to give some purpose to Sparrow, during such a difficult time, which also spurs his passion for music, which develops further as the story continues.

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