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5 of 5
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list price: $21.00
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: March 2007
ISBN:9780771085291
imprint: Emblem Editions

Certainty

by Madeleine Thien

reviews: 1
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literary
5 of 5
1 rating
rated!
rated!
list price: $21.00
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: March 2007
ISBN:9780771085291
imprint: Emblem Editions
Description

Madeleine Thien’s stunning debut novel fulfills all her early promise and introduces a young novelist of vision, maturity, and style.

Gail Lim, a producer of radio documentaries in present-day Vancouver, finds herself haunted by events in her parents’ past in wartorn Asia, a past which remains a mystery that fiercely grips her imagination.

As a child, Gail’s father, Matthew Lim, wandered the Leila Road and the jungle fringe with his lovely Ani, a girl whose early bond with Matthew will affect his life always. As children, they found themselves together under the terrifying shadow of war in Japanese-occupied Sandakan, Malaysia. The war shatters their families and splits the two apart until years later, when they remeet only to be separated again. The legacy of their connection is later inherited by Matthew’s wife, Clara, in unexpected ways.

Gail’s journey to unravel the mystery of her parents’ lives takes her to Amsterdam, where she meets the war photographer Sipke, who tells his story of Ani and their relationship, which began in Jakarta, a story that will bring Gail face to face with the complications in her own life and lead her closer to the truth.

Vivid, poignant, wise, at once sweeping and intimate, Certainty is a novel about the legacies of loss, about the dislocations of war and the redemptive qualities of love. Thien reveals herself as a novelist of rare and potent talent.

Contributor Notes

MADELEINE THIEN is the author of the story collection Simple Recipes, which was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, a Kiriyama Pacific Prize Notable Book, and won the BC Book Prize for Fiction; the novel Certainty, which won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award; and the novel Dogs at the Perimeter, which was shortlisted for Berlin’s 2014 International Literature Award and won the Frankfurt Book Fair’s 2015 Liberaturpreis. Her most recent novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her novels and stories have been translated into twenty-five languages, and her essays have appeared in Granta, The Guardian, the Financial Times, Five Dials, Brick and Al Jazeera. Her story “The Wedding Cake” was shortlisted for the prestigious 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. The daughter of Malaysian-Chinese immigrants to Canada, she lives in Montreal.

Awards
  • Short-listed, Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize
  • Short-listed, Amazon Canada First Novel Award
Editorial Review

Now in paperback
National bestseller

“Intricate and elegiac. . . . Written in powerful and uncluttered prose that cuts to the heart of grief.”
Ottawa Citizen

“A moving, richly textured and immaculately nuanced study of war, grief, displacement, love, renewal.”
Montreal Review of Books

“Thien’s clear-eyed, austere writing is a thing of simple beauty. . . . A wise and thoughtful debut.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Certainty is poised to become an inter-national literary bestseller and . . . the most popular Canadian novel since Miriam Toews’s A Complicated Kindness . . . as well known as The English Patient. . . . If all that happens, it’s ever so well deserved.”
Globe and Mail

“I am astonished by the clarity and ease of the writing, and a kind of emotional purity.”
Alice Munro

“The austere grace and polished assurance of her prose [is] remarkable.”
New York Times Book Review

“Thien weaves dark magic.”
Elle

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Reader Reviews

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Certainty - The Mastery of the Suspended Present

Defining the centrality of Certainty is not unlike watching the silhouette illusion of Nobuyuki Kayahara’s Spinning Dancer. Does the dancer spin to the right or the left? For many readers, Certainty is primarily the story of Gail Lim’s efforts to uncover the secrets of the past of her father Matthew Lim. These readers will endeavour to discover Gail, who is undiscoverable—the shadow that she is. For me, the joy in reading Certainty was in watching the bond grow between Matthew and his childhood friend then lover Ani against the backdrop of war-time and post-war Malaysia.

As the Japanese Imperial Army inflicts brutality on the city of Sandakan, North Borneo, many of the inhabitants flee to the jungle to live out the war scavenging for roots and berries, and most die of starvation. Others succumb to the Japanese demand for total subservience and accept to work for the occupiers in exchange for survival rations. Matthew’s father, a rubber plantation manager is coerced into the ranks of the local occupation bureaucracy. The father’s decision ensures the safety of his son and wife, but not his own. Seven-year-old Matthew is drawn to Ani, whose father is executed by the Japanese after they exhaust him through slave labour. The two children share what they can—Matthew from the food that his father earns as a collaborator and Ani from her roadside singing of the Kimigayo,the very poetic imperial anthem of Japan. Her voice touches the ordinary Japanese soldiers who sing along and share with her not only small portions of rice but also photos of their loved ones back home. The defining moment of the novel comes when as the war draws to an end, Ani says to Matthew with absolute certainty, “Don’t be afraid. We will always take care of each other no matter where we go.”

The settings in Certainty add value to the prose. We are treated to an exotic journey from the rubber plantations of Sandakan to post-colonial Jakarta to rain-soaked Vancouver, my home city, and then to the wind-struck shores of Friesland. Thien’s research into the events of era also enriches the novel. But the most compelling element of her writing is her mastery of the suspended present—the dreamworld entre chien et loup. She calibrates the movement of her prose to lull the readers into embracing her own emotions and then carries them through her forest of mystical imagery.

Although generally Thien’s character development in Certainty falls short of what she later achieved in her second novel Dogs at the Perimeter, I was drawn to the simple beauty of Ani and empathized with Matthew. However, for the most part, I found Thien’s other characters too stoic—too hollowed out by missed opportunity and the misfortune of circumstances. Like dried leaves, their lives just floated on a watery surface of what could have been.

Madeleine Thien is a Canadian author who is transitioning to greatness. Her style is evolving to new heights in literary fiction, yet remains in a form accessible to readers of general fiction. In the new millennium dominated by raw erotica, zombies, vampires and paint-by-numbers fantasy, Thien’s novels are a breath of wistful fresh air, and her best is assuredly yet to come.

Reviewed by Con Cú, the author of Soldier, Lily, Peace and Pearls.

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