From Ha Jin, the widely-acclaimed, award-winning author of Waiting and War Trash, comes a novel that takes his fiction to a new setting: 1990s 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 the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and begin a new, free life in the United States.
At 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 more difficult than he could have ever imagined.
Ha 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.
Ha Jin, who emigrated from China in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square, had only been writing in English for 12 years when he won the National Book Award for Waiting in 1999. His latest novel sheds light on an �migr� writer's woodshedding period. It follows the fortunes of Nan Wu, who drops out of a U.S. grad school after the repression of the democracy movement in China, hoping to find his voice as a poet while supporting his wife, Pingping, and son, Taotao. After several years of spartan living, Nan and Pingping save enough to buy a Chinese restaurant in suburban Atlanta, setting up double tensions: between Nan's literary hopes and his career, and between Nan and Pingping, who, at the novel's opening, are staying together for the sake of their young boy. While Pingping grows more independent, Nan--amid the dulling minutiae of running a restaurant and worries about mortgage payments, insurance and schooling--slowly snuffs the torch he carries for his first love. That Nan at one point reads Dr. Zhivago isn't coincidental: while Ha Jin's novel lacks Zhivago's epic grandeur, his biggest feat may be making the reader wonder whether the trivialities of American life are not, in some ways, as strange and barbaric as the upheavals of revolution. (Nov.)
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October 29, 2007
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