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Certainty Paperback – Mar 27 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Emblem Editions (March 27 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 077108529X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771085291
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 1.7 x 21.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #116,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Thien's debut novel draws its meager impetus from the tale of Matthew and Ani, two 10-year-olds in the village of Sandakan in Japanese-occupied Borneo during WWII, whose lyrical idylls buffer them from the horrors of war. Romance blossoms when they reunite eight years later, in 1953, but their past—Matthew's dead father collaborated with the Japanese—splits them up, sending the secretly pregnant Ani off to Jakarta and Matthew to Vancouver and a marriage (to Clara). Matthew and Ani's saga intertwines with the latter-day story of Matthew and Clara's daughter, Gail, a radio documentary maker, whose cozy but bland relationship is buffeted by an affair and who decides to find out about her father's mysterious past with Ani. Thien (Simple Recipes) uses this narrative as a peg for much elegiac meditation interspersed with muzzy reflections on fractals, code breaking and snowflake formation—her metaphor for the minute contingencies that shape human motivation. Her prose is poised but wan, and the patchwork story, despite jolts of tragic history, doesn't elicit much interest in her characters or their roads not taken. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

In her beautifully written debut novel, Thien spins a silky web of a story, a lovely and powerful multigenerational saga that explores a family's secrets stemming from events that occurred in a Malaysian village during the Japanese occupation of World War II. Death lurks behind much of the story and, in fact, the main character, Gail Lim, dies in the opening pages. The story begins there, though, and easily moves readers from the past to the present, as family members detail their own, sometimes very painful, recollections of events. These events include the death of Lim's grandfather at the hands of Japanese soldiers as well as the grandfather's possible involvement in wartime collaborations with the enemy, a lost love lurking in the jungles of that stricken Malaysian village, and the story of the eventual migration of the family, via Australia and Hong Kong, to Vancouver, British Columbia. There is a light, translucent quality to Thien's prose that casts a certain dreamlike quality on the tale, and yet the magnetic plot will keep the reader's interest through the end. Kathleen Hughes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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]
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars 3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Woven memories capture Vancouver and its links to the Asian diaspora Jan. 7 2008
By Steven Forth - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Vancouver, its rains, its peoples from so many places, carrying their histories, their losses, and their hopes is beautifully captured in this book. The book is set in Strathcona, the old residential district east of Chinatown that was at the center of a cultural renaisance in Vancouver in the 1980s and 1990s. The characters Gail and Ansel are in a way typical of the writers, artists, activists and their friends who have made the area a center for cultural nomads. Certainty is about the difficulty we all have, when being honest, of being certain of ourselves, our loves, our parents and our (un)shared pasts. It weaves together the stories of lovers (Gail and Ansel) with parents and children (Mathew and Ani) and the troubled history of Eastern Borneo and the city of Sandakan - a name that invokes the horror of its death camps under the Japanese, the brutality of its British commercial masters, and the cultural fusion of the Chinese (many Hakka), Japanese (Japanese have been living and trading in Sandakan since before the Edo period), Malays, Dutch and British. Madeleine Thien adds depth to the novel by informed discussions of sound (the protagonist Gail is producer of radio documentaries), image (her mother's husband and her half brother are photographers) and fractal math. These threads provide deep links back into the memories and relationships of the people.

This book helped me remember Vancouver, its cultures and people, and see its links back into the Asian diaspora. My thanks to the writer. I look forward to her next book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this book April 21 2007
By Reader Views - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for Reader Views (3/07)

It's been a year since Gail died. Ansel still remembers the warmth of her body next to his and cherishes the sound of her voice on tape. Gail had begun a documentary. It was important to her and it's unfinished. It is the story of her father Matthew Lim and an investigation of her grandfather's death. The story line begins in the future and travels to the past in a unique writing style.

Matthew's father had once own a rubber plantation in Malaysia but the Japanese army now controlled it. Before the war they had lived in a nice house. But the war had changed many things. The Japanese had taken over the school and now the students had to learn to sing Japanese songs. Matthew and his best friend, Ani, were only ten-years old, but they roamed the jungles. Years later Matthew and Ani meet again, and their love reawakens, but cannot overcome politics and the suspicions that Matthew's father assisted the Japanese. They quietly go their separate ways; Ani does not tell him that she is pregnant. Matthew goes on with his life moving to Vancouver. He marries Clara and cherishes their daughter Gail.

Each character in "Certainty" weaves in his, or her, own thread of the past. Each recounts their individual history in such a way that the story becomes a tapestry of many lives. The story flows smoothly. The characters jump off the pages and come to life. Gail is driven to find the truth. This is not a novel that I could pick up and read in one setting. The words must be pondered. The truth behind the words must be sought. Madeleine Thien is a talented writer and I believe we will be reading more of her books. I highly recommend this book.

Received book free of charge.
6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, Boring, and a Let Down May 24 2007
By Mona L. Roth - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book with much anticipation from the previous reviews I read. Boy, was I let down. It was an unfilling read, and very confusing. The time period jumps were not clear, and the book was just idle words without any meaning. If you asked me what the book was about, I would falter in giving you a clear description. There was no depth. Don't waste your money, more importantly don't waste your time.