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Ha Jin does a wonderful job of bringing the awareness of immigration to the forefront in this novel. Each day, immigrants often have to deal with the process of identity change and racism due to their colour.
Why create? A theme explored in A Free Life
Pingping and Nan immigrated to the United States and their six-year-old son, Taotao, arrives later. One sad part of this family is that Nan doesn’t love his wife, Pingping, and instead pines for his old girlfriend. Pingping is aware of this but she remains a committed and loving wife to Nan and hopes one day he will realize how very, very much she loves him.
Nan is adamant that TaoTao be raised ‘American’ and not as a ‘Chinese’ as he believes the Chinese must endure too much suffering.
Pingping and Nan found it extremely difficult in America for the first two years until they’d saved $30,000 to buy a restaurant to manage and these proved to be difficult times. Nan writes poetry and it is one of his poems that is the essence of the entire novel.
Wonderfully written but at 696 pages, it took me a couple of days to read it. However, this is a novel I would recommend to anyone.
I read the BookBrowse review after I'd just begun the book, and almost put it down, but I'm glad I didn't. This is not a page-turning, fast-moving plot; rather, it's an exploration of several themes by an interesting, introspective character, Nan Wu. Among some of the themes explored are cultural vs. personal identity, self-actualization as the quintessential American Dream, development of individuality vs. sacrifice for family and future generations, and the creative process in a foreign language...as well as the perils of success found by sticking to the familiar. Nan constantly questions his motivations for wanting to be a poet and tries to align the quest for external success with a feeling of personal satisfaction in creative expression of the self. Also of note is the opening up of the poetry publishing industry, its superficiality juxtaposed against its higher purpose. I found the book fascinating, Nan's journey heartening. His personal honesty is quite refreshing and courageous. The book is perhaps one long character development sketch. I loved the poetry journal and poems at the end. Beautiful, simple, softly penetrating.