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--Nans graduate work in political science at Brandeis University would guarantee him a teaching position in China--but after the fallout from Tiananmen, Nans 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 Jins 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.
Finally Taotao got his passport and visa. For weeks his parents had feared that China, even if not closing the door outright, would restrict the outflow of people. After the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, all the American airlines except United had canceled their flights to Beijing and Shanghai. At the good news, Pingping burst into tears. She quickly rinsed the colander in which she had drained the shredded turnip for her jellyfish salad, took off her apron, and set out with her husband, Nan Wu, for the town center of Woodland, where the office of Travel International was located.
The plane ticket cost seventy percent more than the regular fare because it had not been purchased three weeks in advance. The Wus didn't hesitate; as long as Taotao could get out of China in time and safely, it was worth any price. They also bought round-trip tickets from Boston to San Francisco for themselves.
Neither Pingping nor Nan could go back to China to fetch Taotao, who ...
Readers will fall into separate camps over A Free Life. Something about Jin's detached, yet obsessively attentive prose is ultimately readable, and produces a style that some will read as refreshingly spare and realist, while others find stunted and astoundingly boring. The bottom line: If you've never read anything by Ha Jin, definitely read Waiting first. If you're one of many who read Waiting and loved it, then try out A Free Life. Already attuned to his stripped prose styling, you'll be interested to see what happens when he removes the layer of exoticism and lays bare the classic immigrant story with his meticulous rendering and trademark reserve.
(Reviewed by Lucia Silva).
Full Review (1123 words).
The Tiananmen Square Protests
Beginning in mid-April, 1989, thousands of demonstrators anchored by a core group of dissident university students occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square. In what has been described as the greatest challenge to the communist state in China since its inception in 1949, tens of thousands soon joined in the peaceful protest, angered by widespread governmental corruption and calling for democratic reform.
In May, demonstrations and marches throughout Beijing exceeded one million participants. Late on June 3, 1989, army tanks moved into the square and began firing indiscriminately into the crowd of unarmed protesters. Estimates of the death toll range from 200 to more than 3000, as the Chinese ...
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