Thien, Madeleine 1974-

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Thien, Madeleine 1974-


Born 1974, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; married Willem Atsma (a research scientist), 2004. Education: Attended Simon Fraser University; University of British Columbia, B.A., M.F.A.


Home—Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.


Writer. Formerly worked in botany department, University of British Columbia, and as an editor for Ricepaper.


Fiddlehead Short Fiction Contest winner, for "House"; Emerging Writer Award, Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop, 1998; Air Canada Award, Canadian Authors Association, 2001, notable book citation, Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, 2001, and City of Vancouver Book Award, 2002, all for Simple Recipes.


Simple Recipes (short stories), Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2001.

The Chinese Violin (juvenile), illustrated by Joe Chang, Whitecap Books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2001.

Certainty (novel), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of short stories to anthologies, including Best Canadian Stories, 1998, and The Journey Prize Anthology, 1998. Contributor of stories to periodicals in Canada.


Madeleine Thien published her first collection of short stories, Simple Recipes, in 2001. Thien's tales of fractured family relationships and painful coming-of-age moments are mainly set in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she was born to Malaysian-Chinese immigrants in 1974. Some of the stories were completed in the early 1990s, when Thien was a student at the University of British Columbia. Whatever their provenance, the seven pieces collected in Simple Recipes earned Thien an international, and appreciative, audience.

Although her prose is marked by "austere grace and polished assurance," to quote New York Times Book Review contributor Janice P. Nimura, Thien writes in Simple Recipes of the deepest sort of pain and guilt. Parents desert children, marriages hang by slender threads, and youngsters struggle to avoid repeating the poor choices of their parents' generation. "These stories are heartbreaking," Ginny Merdes wrote in the Seattle Times. She went on to add: "Thien paints the human condition as complex and often missing joy." In the story "Simple Recipes," for instance, a girl watches her father prepare dinner carefully, almost ritualistically, and then is stunned into a new awareness when he brutally beats her older brother during an argument. The two sisters in "House" keep a lonely vigil in front of the home they occupied with their alcoholic mother until she deserted them—today is their mother's birthday, the only day of the year on which she stays sober. Miriam, the central character in "A Map of the City," cannot reconcile herself to her immigrant father's failure as a parent, a husband, and a businessman. "Dysfunction and despair are the themes of this graceful debut collection," stated a contributor for Publishers Weekly, concluding that Thien is "a writer to watch."

Thien teamed with visual artist Joe Chang to produce a children's book, The Chinese Violin. Based on a short film Chang produced himself, The Chinese Violin offers a frank tale of young Lin Lin's difficulties assimilating to her new home in Canada after she and her father arrive from China. Both Lin Lin and her father take solace in their Chinese violin, which her father plays on the corner until he is assaulted and the instrument is destroyed. When all hope seems lost, Lin Lin and her father dedicate themselves to hard work and education that will lead them to feel more at home in their new environment. Soon they have earned enough money to buy a new Chinese violin, which Lin Lin learns to play. School Library Journal contributor Margaret A. Chang called The Chinese Violin a "sweet, predictable story" with an "appealing" message.

Certainty, Thien's first novel, tells the story of Gail Lim, an Asian-Canadian writer for the radio whose grandfather was killed under suspicious circumstances during World War II. The book is told in flashbacks, starting with Lim's own death and then looking back to uncover her family's secrets. Writing the book allowed Thien to examine her own family's complex past. Ian McGillis, writing for MBR, said of the book: "Its grappling with big ideas never gets in the way of its storytelling imperative." Sally Ito, in a review for Prairie Fire Online, called Thien's effort "a remarkable debut."



Amerasia Journal, summer, 2004, Jeannie Chiu, review of Simple Recipes, p. 115.

Booklist, May 1, 2002, Carol Haggas, review of Simple Recipes, p. 1511.

Bookpage, July, 2002, Robert Weibezahl, "A Return to Old-Fashioned Storytelling," p. 14.

Books in Canada, September, 2006, Nancy Wigston, review of Certainty, p. 36; October, 2006, Richmond Wong, "Uncertainty," p. 8.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 2001, review of The Chinese Violin, p. 469.

Chatelaine, June, 2001, Bonnie Schiedel "Just the Right Mix," p. 16.

Children's Bookwatch, December, 2001, review of The Chinese Violin, p. 6.

CM, March 29, 2002, review of The Chinese Violin. Fiddlehead, summer, 2001, review of Simple Recipes, pp. 169-71.

Harper's, June, 2002, Pico Iyer, "The Last Refuge: On the Promise of the New Canadian Fiction," p. 77.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 28, 2001, review of Simple Recipes, p. D23; December 1, 2001, review of The Chinese Violin, p. D18; April 22, 2006, "A Grief Observed and Transcended," p. D3.

Herizons, spring, 2002, Hiromi Goto, review of Simple Recipes, p. 34.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of Simple Recipes, p. 450.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 26, 2002, Mark Rozzo, "First Fiction," p. 14.

Maclean's, May 14, 2001, John Bemrose, "Writing Up a Storm," p. 65.

Malahat Review, summer, 2001, review of Simple Recipes, pp. 125-28.

New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2002, Janice P. Nimura, "Northwest Orient," p. 23.

Publishers Weekly, June 3, 2002, review of Simple Recipes, p. 62.

Quill & Quire, March, 2001, review of Simple Recipes, p. 52; October, 2001, Sarah Ellis, review of The Chinese Violin, p. 42.

Resource Links, February, 2002, Cora Lee, review of The Chinese Violin, p. 56.

Room of One's Own, September, 2001, review of Simple Recipes, p. 97.

School Library Journal, February, 2002, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Chinese Violin, p. 114.

Seattle Times, June 23, 2002, Ginny Merdes, "Recipe Lists Heartbreak of the Human Condition," p. K9.

Time International, August 6, 2001, "Madeleine Thien," p. 47.

Toronto Life, July, 2006, "Lazy Cottage Reads," review of Certainty, p. 57.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 8, 2003, review of Simple Recipes, p. 6.


Banana Café: Bookworm, (October 23, 2002), Voltaire Deleon, review of Simple Recipes.

CBC Online, (June 5, 2006), Alex Scott, "Madeleine Thien's Quest for Certainty,"

Hour Online, (May 18, 2006), M.J. Stone, "Sure Thing."

Mostly Fiction, (October 23, 2002), Bill Robinson, review of Simple Recipes.

MRB Online, (January 2, 2007), Ian McGillis, "Multiple Solitudes: Madeleine Thien and the Search for Certainty."

Prairie Fire Online, (January 2, 2007), Sally Ito, review of Certainty.

Seven Oaks Online, (October 31, 2006), Cara Ng, review of Certainty.