Governor General’s Literary Awards

Nous qui n'étions rien, translated by Catherine Leroux

Nous qui n’étions rien

Translated by Catherine Leroux

Éditions Alto; distributed by Diffusion Dimedia; translation of Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, published by Knopf Canada


In Shanghai, during the Cultural Revolution, two families of artists forge an unbreakable bond. Decades later, in Vancouver, a young woman sets out to reconstruct their story using the Book of Records, a novel without a beginning or an ending, both fictional and true to life, which seems to contain all possible lives. So begins a dizzying quest for origins among the stitches of history—the true and the invented. In this saga of startling humanity, Madeleine Thien depicts life in China from the 1930s to the turn of the millennium, and from Tiananmen Square to the Gobi Desert. She also speaks to the unjust silence around the missing, of resilience, the strength of memory, and the power of music and writing. Nous qui n’étions rien is a novel of almost unreal detail, and it poses an ever-relevant question: what is a just society?

“The translator stepped into the author’s shoes. Her version accurately renders the text’s deep sensitivity through balanced phrasing and perfect style—a mix of preciseness and creativity. The transpositions are inventive and the rhythm is consistent.”

Peer assessment committee: Myriam Legault, Hélène Rioux, Michel Saint-Germain

Catherine Leroux
Catherine Leroux
Photo: Audrée Wilhelmy

Biography: Catherine Leroux

Catherine Leroux is a novelist and translator. She was born in 1979. Corps conducteurs, her translation of Sean Michaels’ Us Conductors, won the John Glassco Prize, and Le saint patron des merveilles, her translation of Fabrizio’s Return by Mark Frutkin, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation. Her own novels, La marche en forêt, Le mur mitoyen and Madame Victoria have also received several awards and nominations. Catherine Leroux lives in Montréal, where she is currently at work on her fourth novel and many other literary projects.”

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