Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Free Life by Ha Jin - Book Review

I really enjoyed this book. Sickness the latter part of the week finally gave me time to finish it. I had interrupted my reading to read my book club book, as well as a book I borrowed from the Country Inn and Suites library. That was the second book I have borrowed from the motel library. I like having a book choice in the lobby. Now to my review -

As I said, I liked this book. Nan Wu is a Chinese immigrant who cannot return to China after the Tiananmen Square incident. An intellectual, poet wannabee, he has to adjust to making a living and surviving in America. He also has a wife and son to support. While their lives are difficult, they do not want to return to China where the whole purpose of the government seems to be to annoy and inconvenience you. But they feel, and are, so vulnerable in the US. They have minimal insurance. They have few friends and their relationships with Americans are often hurt by misunderstanding or prejudice.

I have never read anything else by Ha Jin but I wonder if there is not a bit of autobiography about the book. He too immigrated shortly before
Tiananmen. The writing was very sparse. It sounds like what you would expect if Nan Wu had written his own autobiography. I will be looking forward to reading another book by this author soon.

It is interesting to compare A Free Life with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Both chronicle the adjustments of young male immigrants to the life and culture of America. Both are haunted by unfulfilled romantic entanglements. However, their reactions and choices are different. The never named Pakistani returns home with anger and a desire to destroy. Nan Wu wants to stay and find a way to succeed. He is often ashamed of his desire for financial gain and feels that he has sold out for the never completely attainable American Dream. At the conclusion, Nan has found a compromise, a rather menial job with insurance and a livable wage, where he can finally write his poetry. PRM

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