Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review: A Free Life by Ha Jin

An In- Depth Modern Day Portrait of an Immigrant's Life

Book Review

The book opens with Nan and his wife Pingping waiting for their small son at the airport to join them in America, soon after the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. We follow Nan, Pingping and Taotao in their journey to make a new life in the United States, watching them struggle to learn a new language and new skills to become successful.

What is most interesting about this book are the changes in perspective of Nan, and what he envisions success to mean in his own life. Nan had started as a secure scholarly type in China with parents successful in the old country. By becoming vocal about the injustices in China he feels he can no longer go back to his homeland, especially after Tienanmen Square.

Nan is often a man of contrast. The reader watches Nan transform from an intellectual that has never fixed anything, to a man who works menial labor for a living. He comes to value the dollar and the American Dream,  in direct odds with his dream to be a celebrated poet and suffering artist. While his actions are often practical and automated, he continues to dream of a long lost unrequited love that seems to hold him back from celebrating life and his eventual successes.

I found the progression of Nan and his family through their struggles and achievements, celebrations and loss, a very interesting story. What I found was as you read the story, the style is not overly dramatic despite the content. It reads very objectively and matter of fact. . . while still giving you a glimpse into Nan with his thoughts and emotions. I was also intrigued watching the unfolding interactions between Nan with his own family, his countrymen here in America, and his relationships with Americans, and how these continued to shape him.

There is no climactic ending, just a detailed snapshot into one man's life that is written in such a way that I can't help but wonder if the author had similar experiences in balancing all the parts of who he was intrinsically with what day to day expectations bring. I am recommending this one for a detailed look at starting over in a new country and all that means.

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