on December 28, 2007
The ghosts of lives past haunt many of the characters in Madeleine Thien's novel, Certainty. The most notable and tragic of Thien's characters is Matthew Lim. As children, Matthew and his close friend, Ani, endure the atrocities of war during the early 1940s in Japanese occupied North Borneo. This setting is the foundation upon which other subplots, characters, and settings cleverly interconnect. The narrative structure follows the losses of Ansel, a doctor who is widowed at a young age; Gail, a freelance investigative journalist troubled by her father's depression; Sipke, a Dutch photographer whose heart is broken by a young mother; and Clara, a teenager who witnesses a terrible accident in Hong Kong.
Although the narrative frequently has a sombre tone, Thien does give readers glimpses of hope, serenity, and self-acceptance. Her writing is eloquent and flows beautifully as the characters take flight between Vancouver, The Netherlands, Jakarta, Malaysia, and Australia, mirroring the universality of their personal struggles.
Certainty is a novel about families and secrets, grieving and acceptance, and the power of love. After reading this novel, the reader is reminded that one thing that is certain is that all of our lives will eventually come to an end. Madelaine Thien's novel may evoke sadness, but it is definitely a worthwhile read. [Amy MacDougall]