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The most thorough treatment of the Asian immigrant experience you re ever likely to find All of the most intricate details ring so clear and true Only someone who has lived this experience could render it so honestly and poignantly I am in awe of Ha Jin s mastery of English He s so careful with the language, choosing just the right words and placing each exactly where it belongs He has a better command of the language than many native speakers Remarkable Through the character of Nan Wu, th The most thorough treatment of the Asian immigrant experience you re ever likely to find All of the most intricate details ring so clear and true Only someone who has lived this experience could render it so honestly and poignantly I am in awe of Ha Jin s mastery of English He s so careful with the language, choosing just the right words and placing each exactly where it belongs He has a better command of the language than many native speakers Remarkable Through the character of Nan Wu, the author touches on all of the struggles, inner and outer, experienced by those seeking to make America their adopted country It takes many years of back breaking work and conflicted loyalties before Nan finally relaxes and feels that this is his permanent home He alternates between resentment of American ways, and gratitude for the freedoms and opportunities available He s equally conflicted about his own country, dwelling on happy memories and wanting to love China, but feeling anger toward the government and their control of all thought and behavior When he finally returns to China after many years away, he realizes he no longer belongs there and is uncomfortably eager to get back to America Back in the 90 s I had a variety of international housemates, so I was especially tickled by the blunders made as the characters tackled the English language I remember my housemates valiant efforts and hilarious mistakes They were so good natured about being corrected and snickered at Fargracious than I would be had I tried to learn their languages I had the privilege of meeting Ha Jin when he visited Kalamazoo College some years ago, when I still worked there in media relations, and so when his name came up again this time as an author to read in a new bookclub I have joined at my new workplace I took up his newest novel, A Free Life, with warm anticipation To add to that sense, Ha Jin will be visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a few days from this writing, and I look forward to hearing him speak of his new work Perhaps hearing H I had the privilege of meeting Ha Jin when he visited Kalamazoo College some years ago, when I still worked there in media relations, and so when his name came up again this time as an author to read in a new bookclub I have joined at my new workplace I took up his newest novel, A Free Life, with warm anticipation To add to that sense, Ha Jin will be visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a few days from this writing, and I look forward to hearing him speak of his new work Perhaps hearing Ha Jin speak will deepen my understanding of his novel about the immigrant experience from communist China to the United States I would welcome that At this point, however, reading it wasn t the shining and revelatory experience I had hoped it would be Granted, that may in part be because, through my own family s immigrant experience of coming from Soviet occupied Latvia to the United States in WWII, I am already too familiar with this type of tale It lacks discovery for me And, since English is not my native language, either, I find myself almost painfully aware in reading Ha Jin s prose it isn t his His language has almost a barrenness about it, simple and spare to the bone It can be so very difficult to absorb the subtleties of language, I know, and to not only communicate in written language, but express color and life in it with the varied nuances of idiom, metaphor, humor These are often the missing elements in this novel The hero of the novel, the young Chinese man named Nan Wu, seemingly always on the silent edge of a ready despair, can be difficult to warm up to and I can t always say why It could indeed be that second language limitations don t allow the writer to give him the blood we need to feel pulsing in him to see him as real, thus one with whom we can empathize His rather absurd longing for a first love throughout the book, the cruel and shallow Beina, who never misses a chance to treat him like dirt, does little to endear him to the reader, either Not even after the predictable conclusion to that storyline, when Nan takes a trip to find Beina later in life, only to discover she is neither beautiful nor desirable, and his vision of this woman had no substance in reality, she had been desirable only in his mind Ah, all that wasted time and fantasy, when his devoted wife, PingPing, has loved and cared for him, broken hearted at her husband s chilly heart and lack of passion for her, through thick and thin His new appreciation for the real love in his life, so late in coming, is satisfying if not quite redeeming The immigrant experience for Nan is one of chasing the American Dream, and he does it well As is often the case, the immigrant does it better, in fact, than most Americans He doesn t take long to own a business, pay off his mortgage, clear any debt, and blaze a path for himself to become a poet His trip back to his childhood and youth home in China clears away any remaining nostalgia As with his misguided love for Beina, though, home is better in the foggy mythology of the past than in reality He concludes that Home is, indeed, where one has one s loving family and builds a life, not necessarily where one has ancestral roots The novel concludes with the poems written by the character Nan, and although that seemed odd to me at first, as I read through them, I found them pleasing I realized I might have liked to have seen them within the pages of the story rather than in concluding it It might have given mereason to emphatize with Nan, which I was never quite able to do My final sense of this book is that Ha Jin has had great literary courage to take on the feat of writing in a new language With that in mind, this is a worthy accomplishment Compared to the best in current American literature, however, it is a little tempting to urge a writer to hold back a while longer until the finer points of language are absorbed and mastered A Chinese immigrant moves to Boston and becomes disenchanted with his political science studies, so he drops out of university and struggles to take care of his family, doing a series of low paying, somewhat demoralizing, exhausting jobs What he really wants to do is write poetry He can t seem to forget his ex girlfriend, even though he s married to someone else someone wonderful and has a child with her As the years pass, in slow but beautifully written, simple detail, he learns to coo A Chinese immigrant moves to Boston and becomes disenchanted with his political science studies, so he drops out of university and struggles to take care of his family, doing a series of low paying, somewhat demoralizing, exhausting jobs What he really wants to do is write poetry He can t seem to forget his ex girlfriend, even though he s married to someone else someone wonderful and has a child with her As the years pass, in slow but beautifully written, simple detail, he learns to cook in NYC and eventually moves down south to Atlanta, where he buys a restaurant and a house He s able to pay off his mortgage and live the American Dream with his wife and son, but he doesn t see it that way he s convinced that he is a failure.This book is for anyone who s ever tried to be an artist It redefined the term for me Despite consisting of low key events and day to day details no huge action , I was riveted by this book and cared deeply about the characters It s quite sad at times but has an uplifting and satisfying ending dude i m not even a fifth of the way through and i ve heard that1 it s very hard for a chinese immigrant in the post tiananmen era of forced migration of chinese students to get a job, let alone a decent job 2 the protagonist is unhappy 3 he doesn t reciprocate his wife s big love for him but is somehow bound to her for the sake of his childtwo hundred fifty three timesyeah, no. ( Free Kindle ) ☳ A Free Life ♉ A moving, realistic, but always hopeful narrative novel of the Wu family father Nan, mother Pingping, and son Taotao as they fully sever their ties with China in the aftermath of theTiananmen Square massacre and begin a new, free life in the United StatesFrom Ha Jin, the widely acclaimed, award winning author of Waiting and War Trash, comes a novel that takes his fiction to a new setting s America We follow the Wu family father Nan, mother Pingping, and son Taotao as they fully sever their ties with China in the aftermath of theTiananmen Square massacre and begin a new, free life in the United StatesAt first, their future seems well assured Nan s graduate work in political science at Brandeis University would guarantee him a teaching position in China but after the fallout from Tiananmen, Nan s disillusionment turns him towards his first love, poetry Leaving his studies, he takes on a variety of menial jobs while Pingping works for a wealthy widow as a cook and housekeeper As Nan struggles to adapt to a new language and culture, his love of poetry and literature sustains him through difficult, lean years Ha Jin creates a moving, realistic, but always hopeful narrative as Nan moves from Boston to New York to Atlanta, ever in search of financial stability and success, even in a culture that sometimes feels oppressive and hostile As Pingping and Taotao slowly adjust to American life, Nan still feels a strange, paradoxical attachment to his homeland, though he violently disagrees with Communist policy And severing all ties including his love for a woman who rejected him in his youth proves to be difficult than he could have ever imaginedHa Jin s prodigious talents are evident in this powerful new book, which brilliantly brings to life the struggles and successes that characterize the contemporary immigrant experience With its lyrical prose and confident grace, A Free Life is a luminous addition to the works of one of the preeminent writers in America today This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers To view it, click here I was intrigued by the first chapter of this book, the story of a Chinese couple who are living in the USA Their 6 year old son, Taotao, is traveling alone from China to LA, and they are meeting him at the airport Nan, the father, hasn t seen his son in 4 years, Pingping, the mother, for 2 years Both are anxious and worried For the next 200 pages I followed their lives, challenges, and dreams of an independent life in America They work hard, very hard He leaves his academic career and work I was intrigued by the first chapter of this book, the story of a Chinese couple who are living in the USA Their 6 year old son, Taotao, is traveling alone from China to LA, and they are meeting him at the airport Nan, the father, hasn t seen his son in 4 years, Pingping, the mother, for 2 years Both are anxious and worried For the next 200 pages I followed their lives, challenges, and dreams of an independent life in America They work hard, very hard He leaves his academic career and works many menial jobs to support his family They buy a restaurant and work long hours They re good parents She teaches their son every night, first to catch him up to the American kids, then to help him surpass them Nan struggles with his love of poetry writing, which he has abandoned He struggleswith thoughts of a lost love And so it goes After about 300 pages I was getting bored We learn about their new American friends, a childless couple who adopt a Chinese baby Nan meets poets They buy a house He s unhappy They suffer physically from their long hours He thinks about that lost love He reads dictionaries and American poets She works in the restaurant kitchen when he can t be there Are you bored yet You see, the author just tells you what happens The characters never come alive I didn t care about any of them The book is written in very short chapters just a few pages that make it easy to read But, as it drags on for 629 pages, it feelslike a diary than an edited novel Exactly where was the editor here I found many sections that added nothing to the real story, and too many details that were unnecessary Do I need a description of what he sees on the road from Atlanta to Chicago Sure, the life of an immigrant is difficult The language barrier is hard Educated people take menial jobs because their skills aren t recognized in this country But the storytelling isn t compelling And the ending is predictable and unsatisfying If you want to singsing clearlyLet grief embolden your song Recent days have been passing quiet cheerful with this novel by Ha Jin Although i have finished it, i know its melancholic atmosphere will linger on in my mind for sometime It seems to me that Ha Jin is a great novelist with his brilliantly detailed, quite realistic writing More importantly, A free life gave me a new inspiration to write poetry again which i had left in the middle of my way. Ha Jin s success in the United States has been an extraordinary rebuttal to Yeats s claim that no man can think or write with music and vigor except in his mother tongue An immigrant from China who survived the Cultural Revolution and almost six years in the People s Liberation Army, Jin had been writing in English less than a decade when he won a PEN Hemingway Award in 1996 for his first story collection, Ocean of Words The next year, his second collection, Under the Red Flag, won the Flann Ha Jin s success in the United States has been an extraordinary rebuttal to Yeats s claim that no man can think or write with music and vigor except in his mother tongue An immigrant from China who survived the Cultural Revolution and almost six years in the People s Liberation Army, Jin had been writing in English less than a decade when he won a PEN Hemingway Award in 1996 for his first story collection, Ocean of Words The next year, his second collection, Under the Red Flag, won the Flannery O Connor Award Waiting took a National Book Award in 1999 and War Trash was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 And yet despite this pile of literary laurels and a professorship at Boston University, Jin still seems troubled by Yeats s dictum.His enormous new novel, A Free Life, his first to be set in the United States, is the most autobiographical of his works It tells an archetypal tale of immigrant struggle and success, but its real focus is the author s battle to break into the language and the literary culture of his adopted country The story begins in Boston soon after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 Nan Wu is a political science student at Brandeis with a beautiful wife he does not love and a 6 year old son The changed political climate makes it impossible for Nan to go home, and it seems senseless now to finish his PhD He had no idea what he was going to do, the narrator writes Such an independent condition was new to him Now he would have to earn a living by himself and also support his family He was free, free to choose his own way and to make something of himself But what were the choices available to him Could he survive in this land The feeling of uncertainty overwhelmed him The problem of freedom has been central to all Jin s previous works, but how fascinatingly different that problem looks in a free country Liberty raises the specter of failure, poverty and uselessness in a way unimaginable to Nan back in China, where he was provided a salary, shelter usually a bed or at most a room , coupons for cloth and grain and cooking oil, medical care, and sometimes even free condoms Now, he and his wife are given asylum, but nothing else I feel like a crippled man here, he thinks.His fellow students switch tomarketable degrees in business and law, but Nan wants to write poetry, even though he knows there s no audience for Chinese poetry in America and no possibility of having his work published back home Despondent about his career and still pining for a girlfriend who cast him off years before, he takes a series of low paying jobs and presses on through a fog of depression and shame Eventually, he and his wife, Pingping, manage to scrape together enough money to buy a small Chinese restaurant in Atlanta, where they build a successful business, buy a house and attain the trappings of the American dream.That dream is complicated, though, by the persistence of Nan s desire to write poetry in English, a desire Jin draws with aching sympathy He knew that in this land the language was like a body of water in which he had to learn how to swim and breathe, even though he d feel out of his element whenever he used it If he didn t try hard to adapt himself, developing new lungs and gills for this alien water, his life would be confined and atrophied, and eventually wither away Over the years, even when working in menial jobs, Nan remains within the Chinese literary community, which introduces him to a broader circle of successful writers Throughout the novel, Jin uses these encounters to present an odd series of cautionary tales about how not to live as an artist Most of the names here are fictional, and maybe the writers he punctures are too vain to recognize themselves, but even in Nan s humble voice, there s no mistaking Jin s disdain the pompous literary lion fawned over by a parasitic graduate student a writer who manipulates his reputation by recycling positive reviews of his work through different journals another who dissipates his talent with overexposure all of them falling prey to moneygrubbing instead of aspiring to a higher order of artistic achievement A brief trip to the Iowa Writers Workshop gives Nan a chance to look down on the next crop of American poets They re smart enough, but he finds them quite fragile, writing mainly for themselves Poetry had become an esoteric art here, somewhat deprived of its vitality and earnestness And earnestness, Jin makes clear over these 600 irony free pages, is pretty much the pinnacle of his artistic expression In War Trash, Jin s restrained, unadorned voice rendered the horrors of a Korean prison camp all theharrowing, but when used at this exhaustive length to describe the details of suburban Georgia, the story grows dull And the structure of the novel scores of short chapters, each just a few pages long puts enormous emphasis on episodes that are frequently not very significant That s a shame, not only because it buries some truly lovely sections involving Nan s wife, but also because the novel s corpulence smothers the poetic sensibility Nan keeps trying to develop.The plot s lack of momentum is exacerbated by the number of potentially exciting events that rise up but come to naught It s a pattern established right in the novel s opening when Nan s son is lost during the trans Pacific flight to America Don t worry The boy was just dawdling on the plane Soon afterward, Nan plots to kidnap the children of Chinese officials studying in America, but he quickly abandons that violent plan Later, a lawyer swindles them out of their business, but, no, Nan was just being paranoid A tornado approachesand then blows over A runaway teenager shows up on their doorstep, but then goes home to her mother An armed man bursts into the restaurant, but police arrive before he does any harm A neighbor asks Nan s wife to be a surrogate mother, but she decides not to By the time their friends daughter gets leukemia, I had no worries about the girl s future at all This isn t so much a free life as a charmed one.And yet throughout, we have to endure Nan s childish outbursts, his melodramatic self denunciations, his obvious, tardy epiphanies Besides dreams, what else can I have he whines toward the end How about a devoted wife, a successful business, a healthy son But push on or skip to the end You ll find an epilogue that contains 25 moving, startling Poems by Nan Wu These verses roughly chronicle the events in the novel, but they vibrate with the precision and intensity the long preceding narrative lacks I prefer to crawl around at my own pacein the salt water of English.As for the great ghosts in the temple,why should I bother about their acceptance The light of dawn does not discriminate.A tree, or butterfly, or stream unlike the dog corrupted by humans does not notice the color of your skin.To write in this language is to be alone,to live on the margin whereloneliness ripens into solitude.There s no question that Jin s language has ripened into something extraordinary And taken as a whole, A Free Life is a striking demonstration of the poetic success he craved But how many readers will endure till its convincing finish The first of Ha Jin s writing to be primarily set in the United States, A Free Life is a meandering, yet nevertheless beautifully written novel, expounding upon and nuancing the prototypical Asian American immigrant narrative In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Wu family comprised of Nan Wu, the father, Pinging Wu, the mother, and Taotao, the son must forge a new life in the United States After Nan drops out of graduate school in political science at Brandeis University, t The first of Ha Jin s writing to be primarily set in the United States, A Free Life is a meandering, yet nevertheless beautifully written novel, expounding upon and nuancing the prototypical Asian American immigrant narrative In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Wu family comprised of Nan Wu, the father, Pinging Wu, the mother, and Taotao, the son must forge a new life in the United States After Nan drops out of graduate school in political science at Brandeis University, the family must work harder than ever to ensure a successful future The novel takes us from suburbs of Boston, to New York City, to Atlanta, and in the later stages of the text, back to China In the meantime, Ha Jin aims to clarify some of the nuances in the Chinese diasporic community by linking some of the difficulties that the Wu family faces directly because of their Mandarin speaking background My biggest critique of the novel is that it is just too long, and clocking in at a morbidly obese 660 pages, A Free Life could have certainly used a harsh editor The uneven plot does little to carry the reader along and really, I believe, it is the strength of Ha Jin s writing style that lovingly develops and carries what meager momentum there often is for the Wu family For those that have read some Asian American literature, the narrative itself will seem ultimately overly familiar, for the American Dream looms large as a unifying trope in numerous cultural productions and texts Why it is that we should deign to spend it with this seemingly mundane family does beg the particular question about whether or not Jin aimed to consider this from the perspective of U.S minority literatures Indeed, Nan Wu, an aspiring poet and writer, does at one point, come upon the names Gish Jen and Maxine Hong Kingston, but later rather emulates othercanonical poets Given the immigrant suffering and angst so prevalent in Jen and Kingston s work, perhaps Nan Wu would have found a different perspective from which to understand, challenge, and critique his own life s path Toward the concluding pages of the text, Nan is finally sending out poems for publication He mailed out another batch of poems to a small journal called Yellow Leaves, which he had noticed published some Asian American authors 591 The reader never discovers if his poetic aspirations are successful, only left with an epilogue of Nan s poems I m a little disappointed thus far, but I m only about 100 pages into it People gush about this author, but I find that his English prose isn t as engaging as I expected it to be The concepts are interestingbut I m not digging the writing.Having finally finished 600 pages of driftiness There is no plot, just the internal musings of a man trying to find himself Sometimes, though, in mid chapter the point of view changes to other characters, even incidental ones about whom we know little I m a little disappointed thus far, but I m only about 100 pages into it People gush about this author, but I find that his English prose isn t as engaging as I expected it to be The concepts are interestingbut I m not digging the writing.Having finally finished 600 pages of driftiness There is no plot, just the internal musings of a man trying to find himself Sometimes, though, in mid chapter the point of view changes to other characters, even incidental ones about whom we know little Then there are the annoying anachronisms the nine year old son is building his own computers in 1992, hanging out on the internet all the time, and in 1994 he s surfing, chatting, emailing, and playing games online with people around the world UhmmNO Ultimately, there just isn t any POINT to this novel