The Crazed

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Overview

Since the appearance of his first book of stories in English, Ha Jin has won the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and garnered comparisons to Dickens, Balzac, and Isaac Babel. “Like Babel,” wrote Francine Prose in The New York Times Book Review, “Ha Jin observes everything . . . yet he tells the reader only—and precisely—as much as is needed to make his deceptively simple fiction resonate on many levels.”

In his luminous new ...
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Prince Frederick, MD 2002 Audio Cassette Plastic Box Unabridged Audio Book on Tape Near Fine in Very Good jacket Ex-Library This unabridged audio book on tape has 7 cassette ... tapes in near fine condition and they have a library's initials on the front of each one. The plastic box is in very good condition and has three library stickers on it. This book is narrated by Norm Lee. Read more Show Less

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The Crazed

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Overview

Since the appearance of his first book of stories in English, Ha Jin has won the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and garnered comparisons to Dickens, Balzac, and Isaac Babel. “Like Babel,” wrote Francine Prose in The New York Times Book Review, “Ha Jin observes everything . . . yet he tells the reader only—and precisely—as much as is needed to make his deceptively simple fiction resonate on many levels.”

In his luminous new novel, the author of Waiting deepens his portrait of contemporary Chinese society while exploring the perennial conflicts between convention and individualism, integrity and pragmatism, loyalty and betrayal. Professor Yang, a respected teacher of literature at a provincial university, has had a stroke, and his student Jian Wan—who is also engaged to Yang's daughter—has been assigned to care for him. What at first seems a simple if burdensome duty becomes treacherous when the professor begins to rave: pleading with invisible tormentors, denouncing his family, his colleagues, and a system in which a scholar is “just a piece of meat on a cutting board.”

Are these just manifestations of illness, or is Yang spewing up the truth? And can the dutiful Jian avoid being irretrievably compromised? For in a China convulsed by the Tiananmen uprising, those who hear the truth are as much at risk as those who speak it. At once nuanced and fierce, earthy and humane, The Crazed is further evidence of Ha Jin's prodigious narrative gifts.

Author Biography: Ha Jin left his native China in 1985 to attend Brandeis University. He is the author of the internationallybest-selling novel Waiting, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award; the story collections The Bridegroom, which won the Asian American Literary Award, Under the Red Flag, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Ocean of Words, which won the PEN/ Hemingway Award; the novel In the Pond; and three books of poetry. He lives in Massachusetts and is a professor of English at Boston University.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In The Crazed, novelist and poet Ha Jin brings forth another tale of life in the moral and political labyrinth of China. Set in 1989, it tells the story of a young graduate student, Jian Wan, who is assigned the task of caring for his stroke-addled poetry instructor. Listening to his former mentor babble about everything from an extramarital affair to his regrets about pursuing an academic life, he's moved to set aside his own scholarly aspirations and seek an "active" existence. The plan destroys both his relationship with his fiancée and his future in his own country. Wan, in an attempt to prove his worthiness, tries to join the protesters at Tiananmen Square. He almost loses his life in the process and is forced to flee China.

Though Ha Jin witnessed those historic events from afar (he was a doing graduate work in English at Brandeis University when the Tiananmen massacre took place), he uses them to great effect in this book, the first draft of which was prepared in 1988. His previous works include the poetry collections Between Silences and Facing Shadows and the novels Ocean of Words, Under the Red Flag, and Waiting, for which he received the National Book Award for fiction. Sam Stall

James Schiff
Set in communist China, this novel from the author of the National Book Award–winning Waiting is appealing but flawed. Jian Wan, a Chinese graduate student, has his future clearly charted: study for his doctorate in classical literature in Beijing; marry his fiancée, Meimei; and spend his life as a distinguished scholar. However, two events reveal the hidden turmoil beneath the surface and radically alter his plans. First, his mentor and future father-in-law, Professor Yang, suffers a stroke. While nursing Yang, who has fallen into a "crazed" state of ranting, Wan discovers that his mentor's life is not as it appears. The second event is the 1989 student demonstration for democratic reform that takes place on Tiananmen Square. Revolution is in the air, and the once-innocent Wan begins to question his career path and marriage plans. While readers come to see the interplay between private dissatisfaction and public protest, this political allegory feels contrived at times. When Wan too closely heeds the mad and furious words of his hospitalized mentor, his life unravels in a manner that seems more convenient than credible.
From The Critics
Set in communist China, this novel from the author of the National Book Award–winning Waiting is appealing but flawed. Jian Wan, a Chinese graduate student, has his future clearly charted: study for his doctorate in classical literature in Beijing; marry his fiancée, Meimei; and spend his life as a distinguished scholar. However, two events reveal the hidden turmoil beneath the surface and radically alter his plans. First, his mentor and future father-in-law, Professor Yang, suffers a stroke. While nursing Yang, who has fallen into a "crazed" state of ranting, Wan discovers that his mentor's life is not as it appears. The second event is the 1989 student demonstration for democratic reform that takes place on Tiananmen Square. Revolution is in the air, and the once-innocent Wan begins to question his career path and marriage plans. While readers come to see the interplay between private dissatisfaction and public protest, this political allegory feels contrived at times. When Wan too closely heeds the mad and furious words of his hospitalized mentor, his life unravels in a manner that seems more convenient than credible. Author—James Schiff
Publishers Weekly
On the day after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, Jian Wan, the narrator of Ha Jin's powerful new novel, comes upon two weeping students. "I'm going to write a novel to fix all the fascists on the page," says one of them. The other responds, "yes... we must nail them to the pillory of history." Ha's novel is written in the conviction that writers don't nail anyone to anything: at best, they escape nailing themselves. Jian is a graduate student in literature at provincial Shanning University. In the spring of 1989, his adviser, Professor Yang, suffers a stroke, and Jian listens as the bedridden Yang raves about his past. Yang's bitterness about his life under the yoke of the Communist Party infects Jian, who decides to withdraw from school. His fianc e Professor Yang's daughter, Meimei breaks off their engagement in disgust, but Jian is heartened by a trip into the countryside, after which he decides that he will devote himself to helping the province's impoverished peasants. His plan is to become a provincial official, but the Machiavellian maneuverings of the Party secretary of the literature department a sort of petty Madame Mao cheat him of this dream, sending him off on a hapless trip to Beijing and Tiananmen Square. Despite this final quixotic adventure, Ha's story is permeated by a grief that won't be eased or transmuted by heroic images of resistance. Jian settles for shrewd, small rebellions, to prevent himself from becoming "just a piece of meat on a chopping board." Like Gao Xingjian, Ha continues to refine his understanding of politics as an unmitigated curse. (Oct. 22) Forecast: Arguably more accessible than Waiting, which won a National Book Award, The Crazed should bolster Ha Jin's reputation as the premier novelist of the Chinese diaspora. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
It is 1989 and Jian Wan is a graduate student at a provincial Chinese university with his life well planned. He is going to marry the daughter of his mentor and favorite professor, do graduate work in Beijing and live happily ever after. When his professor has a stroke with his family far away and unable to care for him, Jian is assigned the duty of tending him in the hospital every afternoon. Jian soon comes to know more than he wants to know about his professor's personal life. The invalid's ravings make Jian re-evaluate his own plans. When he goes to Beijing with some of his fellow students, he becomes involved in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations without ever really evaluating his own political feelings. He then realizes that "It's personal interests that motivate the individual and therefore generate the dynamics of history." The author uses a personal story to make that very point in this interesting novel for Westerners who know only what they have seen on TV about the events and culture that led to the students' revolt in China. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Vintage, 323p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
Ha's first novel since the National Book Award-winning Waiting is set in 1989 China in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre. As Jian Wan sits by the bedside of his professor and future father-in-law, who has been felled by a stroke, he begins to discover peculiar yet arresting secrets about the professor's past. The seemingly delirious Yang is given to outbursts of shouting, singing, and talking to individuals who are not there. Scared but intrigued, Jian decides to delve deeper into the catalyst for Yang's mysterious behavior. Ha's multilayered, easy-to-read tale is intriguing as always, drawing the reader into the lives of his simple characters by creating complex story lines and striking a delicate balance between the humanistic and the political. Readers who appreciated Ha's previous works are sure to find this novel of interest. Recommended for large fiction and Asian literature collections in both public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/02.]-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A vigil at the bedside of a beloved teacher and mentor challenges, then changes the course of, a young graduate student’s life: the deeply felt "new" novel by Chinese-born American author Ha Jin (Waiting , 1999, etc.).

A concluding acknowledgement refers to a draft of this novel existing in 1988, and it certainly feels like a young man’s work. It narrator and protagonist, 26-year-old Jian Wan ("a rising scholar in poetic studies") is preparing, in 1989, for his Ph.D. exams when his department "assigns" him to help care for eminent Professor Yang (also the father of Jian’s fiancée, Meimei), who has suffered a debilitating stroke. Jian watches, horrified, as the dignified academic thrashes in delirium in his hospital bed ("Sometimes he blabbers like an imbecile and sometimes he speaks like a sage"), making "crazed" references to his past sufferings when denounced as a counterrevolutionary intellectual, a possible adulterous liaison with a younger woman, and his regrets for having chosen a scholar’s life. Professor Yang’s bitterness and despair gradually induce Jian to forsake his own studies, in favor of a "useful" life of activism (an ambition sharpened during a brief trip to the country, a development that seems to belong to another novel altogether). Jian’s decision to forego his final exams enrages the industrious Meimei, and impels him to disprove her accusations of cowardice by joining a group of students planning to protest government injustices—in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where the story climaxes. Having become himself one of "the crazed," Jian now sees where his future lies, and the tale abruptly ends. At its best, this has some of the pacing and texture of a skillfullyconstructed mystery. And Ha Jin contrives several subtle foreshadowings indicating that Jian will not succeed in living a life "outside politics." But the payoff is a letdown: it feels more like a general statement about China’s recent history than the result of its characters’ fateful interactions.

Not one of Ha Jin’s better efforts. Still, readers who’ve admired his later fiction won’t want to miss it.

From the Publisher
“Ha Jin takes the lead of ordinary life and turns it into gold. . . . Haunting . . . wrenching. . . . A work that deserves to be immortal.” —The Washington Post

“Ha Jin’s empathy for his characters is matched by his unwillingness to give them a break. Reading him is almost like falling in love: you experience anxiety, profound self-consciousness, and an uncomfortable sensitivity to the world—and somehow it’s a pleasure. . . . Like the best realist writers, Ha Jin sneaks emotional power into the plainest declarative sentences.” —The New Yorker

“A work of enormous intelligence. Piercing, critical, but leavened by Jin’s understated prose, The Crazed is a substantial addition to the corpus of a great author.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“A work of literature, in the highest tradition of Anton Chekhov or Yasunari Kawabata, suffused with an aching purity.” —Houston Chronicle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402530340
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 11/5/2002
  • Format: Cassette

Meet the Author

Ha Jin left his native China in 1985 to attend Brandeis University. He is the author of the internationally bestselling novel Waiting, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award, and War Trash, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize; the story collections The Bridegroom, which won the Asian American Literary Award, Under the Red Flag, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Ocean of Words, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award; the novels The Crazed and In the Pond; and three books of poetry. His latest novel, A Free Life is his first novel set in the United States. He lives in the Boston area and is a professor of English at Boston University.

War Trash, The Crazed, The Bridegroom, Waiting, In the Pond, and Ocean of Words are available in paperback from Vintage Books.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Xuefei Jin
    2. Hometown:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 21, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Liaoning, China
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Heilongjiang University, 1981; Ph. D. in English, Brandeis University, 1993

Read an Excerpt

1

Everybody was surprised when Professor Yang suffered a stroke in the spring of 1989. He had always been in good health, and his colleagues used to envy his energy and productiveness—he had published more than any of them and had been a mainstay of the Literature Department, directing its M.A. program, editing a biannual journal, and teaching a full load. Now even the undergraduates were talking about his collapse, and some of them would have gone to the hospital if
Secretary Peng had not announced that Mr. Yang, under intensive care, was in no condition to see visitors.

His stroke unsettled me, because I was engaged to his daughter, Meimei, and under his guidance I had been studying for the Ph.D. entrance exams for the classical literature program at Beijing University. I hoped to enroll there so that I could join my fianceé in the capital, where we planned to build our nest. Mr. Yang's hospitalization disrupted my work, and for a whole week I hadn't sat down to my books, having to go see him every day. I was anxious—without thorough preparation I couldn't possibly do well in the exams.

Just now, Ying Peng, the Party secretary of our department, had called me to her office. On her desk an electric fan was whirring back and forth to blow out the odor of dichlorvos sprayed in the room to kill fleas. Her gray bangs were fluttering as she described to me my job, which was to attend my teacher in the afternoons from now on. Besides me, my fellow graduate student Banping Fang would look after Mr. Yang too; he was to take care of the mornings.

"Well, Jian Wan," Ying Peng said to me with a tight smile, "you're the only family Professor Yang has here. It's time for you to help him. The hospital can't provide him with nursing care during the day, so we have to send some people there."
She lifted her tall teacup and took a gulp. Like a man, she drank black tea and smoked cheap cigarettes.

"Do you think he'll stay in the hospital for long?" I asked her.

"I've no idea."

"How long should I look after him?"

"Till we find somebody to replace you."

By "somebody" she meant a person the department might hire as a nurse's aide. Although annoyed by the way she assigned me the job, I said nothing. To some extent I was glad for the assignment, without which I would in any case go to the hospital every day.

After lunch, when my two roommates, Mantao and Huran, were napping, I went to the bicycle shed located between two long dormitory houses. Unlike the female students, who had recently all moved into the new dorm building inside the university, most of the male students still lived in the one-story houses near the front entrance to the campus. I pulled out my Phoenix bicycle and set off for Central Hospital.

The hospital was in downtown Shanning, and it took me more than twenty minutes to get there. Though it wasn't summer yet, the air was sweltering, filled with the smell of burning fat and stewed radish. On the balconies of the apartment buildings along the street, lines of laundry were flapping languidly—sheets, blouses, pajamas, towels, tank tops,
sweat suits. As I passed by a construction site, a loudspeaker mounted on a telephone pole was broadcasting a soccer game; the commentator sounded sleepy despite the intermittent surges of shouts from the fans. All the workers at the site were resting inside the building caged by bamboo scaffolding. The skeletonlike cranes and the drumlike mixers were motionless. Three shovels stood on a huge pile of sand, beyond which a large yellow board displayed the giant words in red paint: AIM HIGH, GO ALL OUT. I felt the back of my shirt dampen with sweat.

Mrs. Yang had gone to Tibet on a veterinary team for a year. Our department had written to her about her husband's stroke, but she wouldn't be able to come home immediately. Tibet was too far away. She'd have to switch buses and trains constantly—it would take her more than a week to return. In my letter to my fianceé, Meimei, who was in Beijing cramming for the exams for a medical graduate program, I described her father's condition and assured her that I would take good care of him and that she mustn't be worried too much. I told her not to rush back since there was no magic cure for a stroke.

To be honest, I felt obligated to attend my teacher. Even without my engagement to his daughter, I'd have done it willingly, just out of gratitude and respect. For almost two years he had taught me individually, discussing classical poetry and poetics with me almost every Saturday afternoon, selecting books for me to read, directing my master's thesis,
and correcting my papers for publication. He was the best teacher I'd ever had, knowledgeable about the field of poetics and devoted to his students. Some of my fellow graduate students felt uncomfortable having him as their adviser. "He's too demanding," they would say. But I enjoyed working with him. I didn't even mind some of them calling me Mr.
Yang, Jr.; in a way, I was his disciple.

Mr. Yang was sleeping as I stepped into the sickroom. He was shorn of the IV apparatus affixed to him in intensive care.
The room was a makeshift place, quite large for one bed, but dusky and rather damp. Its square window looked south onto a mountain of anthracite in the backyard of the hospital. Beyond the coal pile, a pair of concrete smokestacks spewed whitish fumes and a few aspen crowns swayed indolently. The backyard suggested a factory—more exactly, a power plant; even the air here looked grayish. By contrast, the front yard resembled a garden or a park, planted with holly bushes, drooping willows, sycamores, and flowers, including roses, azaleas, geraniums, and fringed irises. There was even an oval pond, built of bricks and rocks, abounding in fantailed goldfish. White-robed doctors and nurses strolled through the flowers and trees as if they had nothing urgent to do.

Shabby as Mr. Yang's room was, having it was a rare privilege; few patients could have a sickroom solely to themselves.
If my father, who was a carpenter on a tree farm in the Northeast, had a stroke, he would be lucky if they gave him a bed in a room shared by a dozen people. Actually Mr. Yang had lain unconscious in a place like that for three days before he was moved here. With infinite pull, Secretary Peng had succeeded in convincing the hospital officials that Mr. Yang was an eminent scholar (though he wasn't a full professor yet) whom our country planned to protect as a national treasure, so they ought to give him a private room.

Mr. Yang stirred a little and opened his mouth, which had become flabby since the stroke. He looked a few years older than the previous month; a network of wrinkles had grown into his face. His gray hair was unkempt and a bit shiny,
revealing his whitish scalp. Eyes shut, he went on licking his upper lip and murmured something I couldn't quite hear.

Sitting on a large wicker chair close to the door, I was about to take out a book from my shoulder bag when Mr. Yang opened his eyes and looked around vacantly. I followed his gaze and noticed that the wallpaper had almost lost its original pink. His eyes, cloudy with a web of reddish veins, moved toward the center of the low ceiling, stopped for a moment at the lightbulb held by a frayed wire, then fell on the stack of Japanese vocabulary cards on my lap.

"Help me sit up, Jian," he said softly.

I went over, lifted his shoulders, and put behind him two pillows stuffed with fluffy cotton so that he could sit comfortably. "Do you feel better today?" I asked.

"No, I don't." He kept his head low, a tuft of hair standing up on his crown while a muscle in his right cheek twitched.

For a minute or so we sat silently. I wasn't sure if I should talk more; Dr. Wu had told us to keep the patient as peaceful as possible; more conversation might make him too excited. Although diagnosed as a cerebral thrombosis, his stroke seemed quite unusual, not accompanied by aphasia—he was still articulate and at times peculiarly voluble.

As I wondered what to do, he raised his head and broke the silence. "What have you been doing these days?" he asked.
His tone indicated that he must have thought we were in his office discussing my work.

I answered, "I've been reviewing a Japanese textbook for the exam and—"

"To hell with that!" he snapped. I was too shocked to say anything more. He went on, "Have you read the Bible by any chance?" He looked at me expectantly.

"Yes, but not the unabridged Bible." Although puzzled by his question, I explained to him in the way I would report on a book I had just waded through. "Last year I read a condensed English version called Stories from the Bible, published by the Press of Foreign Language Education. I wish I could get hold of a genuine Bible, though." In fact, a number of graduate students in the English program had written to Christian associations in the United States requesting the Bible,
and some American churches had mailed them boxes of books, but so far every copy had been confiscated by China's customs.

Mr. Yang said, "Then you know the story of Genesis, don't you?"

"Yes, but not the whole book."

"All right, in that case, let me tell you the story in its entirety."

After a pause, he began delivering his self-invented Genesis with the same eloquence he exhibited when delivering lectures. But unlike in the classroom, where his smiles and gestures often mesmerized the students, here he sat unable to move a muscle, and his listless head hung so low that his eyes must have seen nothing but the white quilt over his legs.
There was a bubbling sound in his nose, rendering his voice a little wheezy and tremulous. "When God created heaven and earth, all creatures were made equal. He did not intend to separate man from animals. All the creatures enjoyed not only the same kind of life but also the same span of life. They were equal in every way."

What kind of Genesis is this? I asked myself. He's all confused, making fiction now.

He spoke again. "Then why does man live longer than most animals? Why does he have a life different from those of the other creatures? According to Genesis it's because man was greedy and clever and appropriated many years of life from
Monkey and Donkey." He exhaled, his cheeks puffy and his eyes narrowed. A fishtail of wrinkles spread from the end of his eye toward his temple. He went on, "One day God descended from heaven to inspect the world he had created.
Monkey, Donkey, and Man came out to greet God with gratitude and to show their obedience. God asked them whether they were satisfied with life on earth. They all replied that they were.

"'Does anyone want something else?' asked God.

"Hesitating for a moment, Monkey stepped forward and said, 'Lord, the earth is the best place where I can live. You have blessed so many trees with fruit that I need nothing more. But why did you let me live to the age of forty? After I reach thirty, I will become old and cannot climb up trees to pluck fruit. So I will have to accept whatever the young monkeys give me, and sometimes I will have to eat the cores and peels they drop to the ground. It hurts me to think I'd have to feed on their leavings. Lord, I do not want such a long life. Please take ten years off my life span. I'd prefer a shorter but active existence.' He stepped back, shaking fearfully. He knew it was a sin to be unsatisfied with what God had given him.

"'Your wish is granted,' God declared without any trace of anger. He then turned to Donkey, who had opened his mouth several times in silence. God asked him whether he too had something to say.

"Timidly Donkey moved a step forward and said, 'Lord, I have the same problem. Your grace has enriched the land where so much grass grows that I can choose the most tender to eat. Although Man treats me unequally and forces me to work for him, I won't complain because you gave him more brains and me more muscles. But a life span of forty years is too long for me. When I grow old and my legs are no longer sturdy and nimble, I will still have to carry heavy loads for
Man and suffer his lashes. This will be too miserable for me. Please take ten years off my life too. I want a shorter existence without old age.'

"'Your wish is granted.' God was very generous with them that day and meant to gratify all their requests. Then he turned to Man, who seemed also to have something to say. God asked, 'You too have a complaint? Tell me, Adam, what is on your mind.'

"Man was fearful because he had abused the animals and could be punished for that. Nevertheless, he came forward and began to speak. 'Our Greatest Lord, I always enjoy everything you have created. You endowed me with a brain that enables me to outsmart the animals, who are all willing to obey and serve me. Contrary to Monkey and Donkey, a life span of forty years is too short for me. I would love to live longer. I want to spend more time with my wife, Eve, and my children. Even if I grow old with stiff limbs, I can still use my brain to manage my affairs. I can issue orders, teach lessons, deliver lectures, and write books. Please give their twenty years to me.' Man bowed his head as he remembered that it was a sin to assume his superiority over the animals.

"To Man's amazement, God did not reprimand him and instead replied, 'Your wish is also granted. Since you enjoy my creation so much, I'll give you an additional ten years. Now, altogether you will have seventy years for your life. Spend your ripe old age happily with your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Use your brain wisely.'"

Mr. Yang paused, looking pale and exhausted, sweat glistening on his nose and a vein in his neck pulsating. Then he said dolefully, "Donkey, Monkey, and Man were all satisfied that day. From then on, human beings can live to the age of seventy whereas monkeys and donkeys can live only thirty years."

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First Chapter

1

Everybody was surprised when Professor Yang suffered a stroke in the spring of 1989. He had always been in good health, and his colleagues used to envy his energy and productiveness--he had published more than any of them and had been a mainstay of the Literature Department, directing its M.A. program, editing a biannual journal, and teaching a full load. Now even the undergraduates were talking about his collapse, and some of them would have gone to the hospital if Secretary Peng had not announced that Mr. Yang, under intensive care, was in no condition to see visitors.

His stroke unsettled me, because I was engaged to his daughter, Meimei, and under his guidance I had been studying for the Ph.D. entrance exams for the classical literature program at Beijing University. I hoped to enroll there so that I could join my fiancee in the capital, where we planned to build our nest. Mr. Yang's hospitalization disrupted my work, and for a whole week I hadn't sat down to my books, having to go see him every day. I was anxious--without thorough preparation I couldn't possibly do well in the exams.

Just now, Ying Peng, the Party secretary of our department, had called me to her office. On her desk an electric fan was whirring back and forth to blow out the odor of dichlorvos sprayed in the room to kill fleas. Her gray bangs were fluttering as she described to me my job, which was to attend my teacher in the afternoons from now on. Besides me, my fellow graduate student Banping Fang would look after Mr. Yang too; he was to take care of the mornings.

"Well, Jian Wan," Ying Peng said to me with a tight smile, "you're the only family Professor Yang has here. It's timefor you to help him. The hospital can't provide him with nursing care during the day, so we have to send some people there." She lifted her tall teacup and took a gulp. Like a man, she drank black tea and smoked cheap cigarettes.

"Do you think he'll stay in the hospital for long?" I asked her.

"I've no idea."

"How long should I look after him?"

"Till we find somebody to replace you."

By "somebody" she meant a person the department might hire as a nurse's aide. Although annoyed by the way she assigned me the job, I said nothing. To some extent I was glad for the assignment, without which I would in any case go to the hospital every day.

After lunch, when my two roommates, Mantao and Huran, were napping, I went to the bicycle shed located between two long dormitory houses. Unlike the female students, who had recently all moved into the new dorm building inside the university, most of the male students still lived in the one-story houses near the front entrance to the campus. I pulled out my Phoenix bicycle and set off for Central Hospital.

The hospital was in downtown Shanning, and it took me more than twenty minutes to get there. Though it wasn't summer yet, the air was sweltering, filled with the smell of burning fat and stewed radish. On the balconies of the apartment buildings along the street, lines of laundry were flapping languidly--sheets, blouses, pajamas, towels, tank tops, sweat suits. As I passed by a construction site, a loudspeaker mounted on a telephone pole was broadcasting a soccer game; the commentator sounded sleepy despite the intermittent surges of shouts from the fans. All the workers at the site were resting inside the building caged by bamboo scaffolding. The skeletonlike cranes and the drumlike mixers were motionless. Three shovels stood on a huge pile of sand, beyond which a large yellow board displayed the giant words in red paint: AIM HIGH, GO ALL OUT. I felt the back of my shirt dampen with sweat.

Mrs. Yang had gone to Tibet on a veterinary team for a year. Our department had written to her about her husband's stroke, but she wouldn't be able to come home immediately. Tibet was too far away. She'd have to switch buses and trains constantly--it would take her more than a week to return. In my letter to my fiancee, Meimei, who was in Beijing cramming for the exams for a medical graduate program, I described her father's condition and assured her that I would take good care of him and that she mustn't be worried too much. I told her not to rush back since there was no magic cure for a stroke.

To be honest, I felt obligated to attend my teacher. Even without my engagement to his daughter, I'd have done it willingly, just out of gratitude and respect. For almost two years he had taught me individually, discussing classical poetry and poetics with me almost every Saturday afternoon, selecting books for me to read, directing my master's thesis, and correcting my papers for publication. He was the best teacher I'd ever had, knowledgeable about the field of poetics and devoted to his students. Some of my fellow graduate students felt uncomfortable having him as their adviser. "He's too demanding," they would say. But I enjoyed working with him. I didn't even mind some of them calling me Mr. Yang, Jr.; in a way, I was his disciple.

Mr. Yang was sleeping as I stepped into the sickroom. He was shorn of the IV apparatus affixed to him in intensive care. The room was a makeshift place, quite large for one bed, but dusky and rather damp. Its square window looked south onto a mountain of anthracite in the backyard of the hospital. Beyond the coal pile, a pair of concrete smokestacks spewed whitish fumes and a few aspen crowns swayed indolently. The backyard suggested a factory--more exactly, a power plant; even the air here looked grayish. By contrast, the front yard resembled a garden or a park, planted with holly bushes, drooping willows, sycamores, and flowers, including roses, azaleas, geraniums, and fringed irises. There was even an oval pond, built of bricks and rocks, abounding in fantailed goldfish. White-robed doctors and nurses strolled through the flowers and trees as if they had nothing urgent to do.

Shabby as Mr. Yang's room was, having it was a rare privilege; few patients could have a sickroom solely to themselves. If my father, who was a carpenter on a tree farm in the Northeast, had a stroke, he would be lucky if they gave him a bed in a room shared by a dozen people. Actually Mr. Yang had lain unconscious in a place like that for three days before he was moved here. With infinite pull, Secretary Peng had succeeded in convincing the hospital officials that Mr. Yang was an eminent scholar (though he wasn't a full professor yet) whom our country planned to protect as a national treasure, so they ought to give him a private room.

Mr. Yang stirred a little and opened his mouth, which had become flabby since the stroke. He looked a few years older than the previous month; a network of wrinkles had grown into his face. His gray hair was unkempt and a bit shiny, revealing his whitish scalp. Eyes shut, he went on licking his upper lip and murmured something I couldn't quite hear.

Sitting on a large wicker chair close to the door, I was about to take out a book from my shoulder bag when Mr. Yang opened his eyes and looked around vacantly. I followed his gaze and noticed that the wallpaper had almost lost its original pink. His eyes, cloudy with a web of reddish veins, moved toward the center of the low ceiling, stopped for a moment at the lightbulb held by a frayed wire, then fell on the stack of Japanese vocabulary cards on my lap.

"Help me sit up, Jian," he said softly.

I went over, lifted his shoulders, and put behind him two pillows stuffed with fluffy cotton so that he could sit comfortably. "Do you feel better today?" I asked.

"No, I don't." He kept his head low, a tuft of hair standing up on his crown while a muscle in his right cheek twitched.

For a minute or so we sat silently. I wasn't sure if I should talk more; Dr. Wu had told us to keep the patient as peaceful as possible; more conversation might make him too excited. Although diagnosed as a cerebral thrombosis, his stroke seemed quite unusual, not accompanied by aphasia--he was still articulate and at times peculiarly voluble.

As I wondered what to do, he raised his head and broke the silence. "What have you been doing these days?" he asked. His tone indicated that he must have thought we were in his office discussing my work.

I answered, "I've been reviewing a Japanese textbook for the exam and--"

"To hell with that!" he snapped. I was too shocked to say anything more. He went on, "Have you read the Bible by any chance?" He looked at me expectantly.

"Yes, but not the unabridged Bible." Although puzzled by his question, I explained to him in the way I would report on a book I had just waded through. "Last year I read a condensed English version called Stories from the Bible, published by the Press of Foreign Language Education. I wish I could get hold of a genuine Bible, though." In fact, a number of graduate students in the English program had written to Christian associations in the United States requesting the Bible, and some American churches had mailed them boxes of books, but so far every copy had been confiscated by China's customs.

Mr. Yang said, "Then you know the story of Genesis, don't you?"

"Yes, but not the whole book."

"All right, in that case, let me tell you the story in its entirety."

After a pause, he began delivering his self-invented Genesis with the same eloquence he exhibited when delivering lectures. But unlike in the classroom, where his smiles and gestures often mesmerized the students, here he sat unable to move a muscle, and his listless head hung so low that his eyes must have seen nothing but the white quilt over his legs. There was a bubbling sound in his nose, rendering his voice a little wheezy and tremulous. "When God created heaven and earth, all creatures were made equal. He did not intend to separate man from animals. All the creatures enjoyed not only the same kind of life but also the same span of life. They were equal in every way."

What kind of Genesis is this? I asked myself. He's all confused, making fiction now.

He spoke again. "Then why does man live longer than most animals? Why does he have a life different from those of the other creatures? According to Genesis it's because man was greedy and clever and appropriated many years of life from Monkey and Donkey." He exhaled, his cheeks puffy and his eyes narrowed. A fishtail of wrinkles spread from the end of his eye toward his temple. He went on, "One day God descended from heaven to inspect the world he had created. Monkey, Donkey, and Man came out to greet God with gratitude and to show their obedience. God asked them whether they were satisfied with life on earth. They all replied that they were.

"'Does anyone want something else?' asked God.

"Hesitating for a moment, Monkey stepped forward and said, 'Lord, the earth is the best place where I can live. You have blessed so many trees with fruit that I need nothing more. But why did you let me live to the age of forty? After I reach thirty, I will become old and cannot climb up trees to pluck fruit. So I will have to accept whatever the young monkeys give me, and sometimes I will have to eat the cores and peels they drop to the ground. It hurts me to think I'd have to feed on their leavings. Lord, I do not want such a long life. Please take ten years off my life span. I'd prefer a shorter but active existence.' He stepped back, shaking fearfully. He knew it was a sin to be unsatisfied with what God had given him.

"'Your wish is granted,' God declared without any trace of anger. He then turned to Donkey, who had opened his mouth several times in silence. God asked him whether he too had something to say.

"Timidly Donkey moved a step forward and said, 'Lord, I have the same problem. Your grace has enriched the land where so much grass grows that I can choose the most tender to eat. Although Man treats me unequally and forces me to work for him, I won't complain because you gave him more brains and me more muscles. But a life span of forty years is too long for me. When I grow old and my legs are no longer sturdy and nimble, I will still have to carry heavy loads for Man and suffer his lashes. This will be too miserable for me. Please take ten years off my life too. I want a shorter existence without old age.'

"'Your wish is granted.' God was very generous with them that day and meant to gratify all their requests. Then he turned to Man, who seemed also to have something to say. God asked, 'You too have a complaint? Tell me, Adam, what is on your mind.'

"Man was fearful because he had abused the animals and could be punished for that. Nevertheless, he came forward and began to speak. 'Our Greatest Lord, I always enjoy everything you have created. You endowed me with a brain that enables me to outsmart the animals, who are all willing to obey and serve me. Contrary to Monkey and Donkey, a life span of forty years is too short for me. I would love to live longer. I want to spend more time with my wife, Eve, and my children. Even if I grow old with stiff limbs, I can still use my brain to manage my affairs. I can issue orders, teach lessons, deliver lectures, and write books. Please give their twenty years to me.' Man bowed his head as he remembered that it was a sin to assume his superiority over the animals.

"To Man's amazement, God did not reprimand him and instead replied, 'Your wish is also granted. Since you enjoy my creation so much, I'll give you an additional ten years. Now, altogether you will have seventy years for your life. Spend your ripe old age happily with your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Use your brain wisely.'"

Mr. Yang paused, looking pale and exhausted, sweat glistening on his nose and a vein in his neck pulsating. Then he said dolefully, "Donkey, Monkey, and Man were all satisfied that day. From then on, human beings can live to the age of seventy whereas monkeys and donkeys can live only thirty years."
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Reading Group Guide

1. Early on in The Crazed, Weiya chides the narrator, “You’re a bit too emotional, perhaps because you’re not experienced in life yet” [p. 119]. Do you agree with her? Why did Ha Jin choose Jian as the narrator? What are Jian’s strengths and weaknesses as a character and a narrator? How does his lack of objectivity affect your reading? Is his version of the events throughout the course of the novel believable? How does the narrator’s sense of self evolve? Is this ultimately a coming-of-age novel?

2. What American notions of China and its particular form of communism are confirmed or challenged in this novel? What do you think Ha Jin is saying about Chinese communism and its effect on the individual and society?

3. What determines/undermines romantic attachments in this novel? Are there any fulfilled and satisfied love relationships in this novel? How do the relationships compare or contrast to those in Waiting, if you’ve read Ha Jin’s earlier novel? What is Ha Jin saying about love, romantic or otherwise?

4. Professor Yang’s students dislike studying political science, but he defends it as crucial and invaluable, “Human beings have always lived in some kind of political environment” [p. 199]. Later he pontificates that, “It’s personal interests that motivate the individual and therefore generate the dynamics of history” [p. 320]. What do you think of these two statements? Do you agree with Professor Yang?

5. “What’s the good of poetry? It just gets your hopes up” [p. 136]. According to Professor Yang, what is the fundamental difference between Western and Chinese poetry? What is the significance of the Tu Fu poem, “Song of My Straw Hut Shattered by the Autumn Wind” [p. 132], that Yang quotes as his own ?

6. Ha Jin gives us minute details of everyday life in Shanning town—the sight of billboards promoting “Aim High, Go All Out” and of laundry on balconies flapping in the wind, the taste of simmering tofu and pomegranate tea, and the smell of stewed radishes. Why all these details? Is this Ha Jin’s narrative style or is he detailing ordinary life in China for his Western audience?

7. The natural landscape is absent from The Crazed until Jian leaves Shanning for the countryside. How do the descriptions of the countryside and its inhabitants compare to views in famous Chinese movies such as Yellow Earth and Ju Dou, if you’ve seen any of these? What are the symbolic differences between the town and the countryside, and later the capital, Beijing? What is the importance of each place and its role in the context of the entire novel?

8. What is the significance of Chinese custom officials confiscating the Bible? And of the Genesis story retold by Professor Yang? Why does Ha Jin introduce this in the beginning of the novel?

9. Animal imagery permeates the first half of the book. What do the animals signify? Why do most of the characters resemble animals? Professor Yang is likened to a piglet, a fish, a harnessed horse, and a rabbit; Yang’s wife to a praying mantis; the nurse to a chicken; the crazy cafeteria man to an owl. Is this connected somehow to the Genesis story?

10. What does Jian learn from traveling to and around Beijing, and from experiencing the historical events of Tiananmen Square in June 1989? How does it affect his life, and the story?

11. What do you think of Professor Yang’s ranting and raving? Do you think he is talking to Jian in particular or to anyone who will listen? Is this a manifestation of his illness or is Yang yelling out the truth from his sickbed?

12. In what ways is this novel about power relationships—between teacher and student, ordinary students and Party member students, teacher and department head, older students and younger students, boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, the individual and the bureaucratic system? In what ways does the Communist Party bureaucracy affect the various relationships in the novel? How do these relationships change over the course of the spring, as the professor lays dying? Does any one group or individual emerge victorious over another? Are there any betrayals in the novel? Who betrays whom?

13. Who or what is the crazed? What does the title refer to? What does it imply?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Recommended

    Another great narrative from Ha Jin, with his amazing command of English-language but total grasp of contemporary Chinese life. Once again the ghosts and events of the Cultural Revolution are in the background, this time during the Tiananmin uprising. A professor suffers a stroke and through his dementia his young protege sorts out the truths that will determine his own choices in life. More complex than earlier novels and stories from Ha Jin, but just as enjoyable to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2007

    I tried to like it!

    I had a really hard time getting into this book and am sad to say that I put it down about 3/4 of the way through. At times I found it very engaging, but most of the time I just found it boring. I have read many of Ha Jin's other works and have always enjoyed them, especially his collections of short stories! I will definitely give him another try. And I will probably pick this book up again since the other reviewers indicate the ending is what makes it so good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2005

    The Big Picture

    This had to have been Ha Jin's best novel. It had to have been looked at through the 'big picture' it all ties in at the end of the novel. If one stopped reading halfway through it wouldnt have done the work justice. I was supposed to read this novel for English Class and I am glad I did! what an enlightenment!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2002

    Saramago and Jin--the two top guns

    In the past 3 years the only books I have truly enjoyed were Blindness, All the Names and the Cave by Saramago and Waiting and The Crazed by Ha Jin Thank You. Life is richer because of you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2002

    Element of HOPE makes this Ha Jin's best yet!

    I do NOT agree at all with the review stating "not Ha Jin's best." It IS his best novel! And considering the greatness of his others, that's saying a lot. The characters, plot, themes, and setting are his best developed yet. It's not a pleasant story, but it is an immensely intriguing story, ending with HOPE and freedom. And for idealists like me, that helps make this his best yet. . . Zhu-he, zhu-he, Ha Jin!

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    Posted August 17, 2013

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    Posted December 28, 2010

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    Posted February 22, 2009

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