Pantheon, $24, 323 pp.
Ha Jin, who immigrated to the United States from China in 1985, has already published an impressive body of fiction and poetry in English. His short stories, which often appear in annual prize volumes, are odd and arresting compressions of Chinese life: a gay man takes an unattractive bride but is revealed and punished; the American Cowboy Chicken franchise opens a branch in a provincial city, and its workers become consumed with capitalist envy; a little girl observes her miserable kindergarten teacher and learns her first lessons in deceit. Ha Jin’s first novel, Waiting, which won the National Book Award, is a beautiful and mysterious meditation on the meaning of inaction as well as an allegory of post-Cultural Revolution China. The fiction is realistic—the settings are rendered meticulously—but the plots seesaw between political absurdity on a grand scale and individual suffering in its smallest detail. In an age when so many critics have declared the death of literary realism, Ha Jin’s depiction of real absurdity and absurd reality is a good argument against realism’s premature burial.
The Crazed, his new novel, is also a compelling read, more directly political than Waiting, more focused on an inevitable plot march that will end in Tiananmen Square. The narrator, Jian Wan, is a graduate student studying for his Ph.D. entrance exams, which he hopes will propel him to Beijing University and marriage to his...
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About the Author
Valerie Sayers, professor of English at Notre Dame, is the author of six novels, including The Powers.