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
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.
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.
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: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Vintage, 323p., Ages 15 to adult.
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.
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.
“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