Showing posts with label Ha Jin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ha Jin. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

FauxCast ~ CHOP IT UP: War Trash by Ha Jin

WHADUPPPPP!  So, yeah.  Ha Jin's War Trash.  Let's GO!

War Trash by Ha Jin on Amazon (affiliate link)

Ha Jin’s masterful new novel casts a searchlight into a forgotten corner of modern history, the experience of Chinese soldiers held in U.S. POW camps during the Korean War. In 1951 Yu Yuan, a scholarly and self-effacing clerical officer in Mao’s “volunteer” army, is taken prisoner south of the 38th Parallel. Because he speaks English, he soon becomes an intermediary between his compatriots and their American captors.With Yuan as guide, we are ushered into the secret world behind the barbed wire, a world where kindness alternates with blinding cruelty and one has infinitely more to fear from one’s fellow prisoners than from the guards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Currently-Reading Hustle (Video)

B O O K S M E N T I O N (All links are Amazon affiliate)

1. Buffy, The Vampire Slayer Tempted Champions by Yvonne Navarro ~
2. Young Miss Holmes by Kaoru Shintani ~
3. A Free Life by Ha Jin ~
4. A Mind to Murder by P. D. James ~
5. Perfect Peace by Daniel Black ~
6. God is Always Hiring by Regina Brett ~
7. Day Shift by Charlaine Harris ~



Friday, December 12, 2014

Definitely Worth Considering: A Map of Betrayal

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Biracial quinquagenarian (test driving that word, but it basically means someone 50 and over), Lilian Shang, was born and brought up in America by an American mother and a Chinese father.  For most of her adult life she's had unanswered questions about her Chinese father and his past.  And it's this slew of leftover questions that wakes the need to unbury his life; from his roots in China, his immigration to America, and finally to his incarceration and death as a Chinese intelligence spy working as a mole within the CIA.  Gary Shang, Lilian's father, traded intel used by China to damage the U.S. national security, all the while raising her. So she needed to know his story. His life. From the beginning to the end. And she needed to understand his divided loyalty between China and America.

Long before her mother died of pancreatic cancer, she would complain to Lilian about the affair her husband had with a Chinese reporter named Suzie Chao. With those complaints came the warning: “…have nothing to do with that woman.” Until this moment, Lilian has complied with her mother’s wishes. But now, requiring answers regarding her father, she seeks out Suzie.  Here she finds that her father left six journals chronicling his life between 1949-1980. In these journals Lilian uncovers her father’s first marriage in China. The twin children birthed from this marriage. And the pain he faced working for Communist China who separated him from that family to secure his role as a spy. Unfortunately, his country turn its back on him when his position is uncovered, subsequently throwing him on trial and into prison.

With the story of her father’s life in hand, Liliam finds herself applying his hard lessons to save the life of her nephew and Gary Shang’s grandson here in the present.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


So, I can not finish writing about Ha Jin's The Crazed without sharing one of my favorite "ramblings" from Professor Yang.  I found the preceding passages too thought-provoking to ignore, as it asks a great question regarding Western and Eastern poetry voices and mechanics.  It also reflects one of the overall arguments of the novel.  

"He lifted his face and began lecturing in his normal way.  'Comrades, when we analyze a Western poem, we should bear in mind that the speaker and the poet are rarely identical.  The fundamental difference between Chinese poetry and Western poetry lies in the use of the persona.  In the Chinese poetic tradition the poet and the poetic speaker are not separate except in some minor genres, such as laments from the boudoir and folk ballads.  Ancient Chinese poets mostly speak as themselves in their poems; the sincerity and the trustworthiness of the poetic voice are the essential virtues of their poetry.  Chinese poets do not need a persona to alienate themselves from their poetic articulation.  By contrast, in Western literature poets often adopt a persona to make their poetry less autobiographical.  They believe in artifice more than in sincerity.  Therefore, when we read a Western poem, we must not assume that the poet speaks.  In general the speaker is fictional, not autobiographical.'"

"'The essence of Western culture is the self, whereas the essence of the Chinese culture is the community.  But poetry in both cultures has a similar function, that is, to express and preserve the self, though it attains this goal through different ways.  In Chinese culture, poetry liberates and sustains the self despite the fact that the self is constantly under the overwhelming pressure of the community.  Thus Chinese poets tend to speak as themselves, too earnest to worry about having a characterized voice to conceal their own–they desperately need the genuine self-expression in poetic articulation.  In other words, the self is liberated in poetic speech, which is essentially cathartic to the Chinese poet.  On the contrary, in Western culture poetry tends to shield and enrich the self, which on the one hand is threatened by other human beings and on the other hand has to communicate with others.  Therefore, the persona becomes indispensable if Western poets intend to communicate and commiserate with others without exposing themselves vulnerably.  In this sense, the persona as a poetic device functions to multiply the self.'"

Seeing that Ha Jin is a poet himself, he must've been channeling himself through Professor Yang intensely during this moment/scene from The Crazed.  Nonetheless, I have to say that I need to familiarize myself with more poetry by Chinese poets to even construct a decent response.  Nevertheless, it all bears a thought.  However, what I will say from a cultural and societal standpoint is that I can most certainly see how Eastern cultures focus on the community/country as a collective; whereas in the West we do lean toward many of our inner, personal philosophies and identities as individuals.  If this is reflected between–say an American poet over a Chinese poet–then I wouldn't be surprised should I come to that conclusion after exploring each.

So what do you think?  Is there some reality behind Professor Yang's thoughts in relation to poetry and cultural differences?

As a minor sidenote, this whole post/subject kind of makes me think of those moments where I'm screaming at whatever current Korean drama I'm watching.  Watching a character bow, move, get slapped, and honor abuse to save face for him or herself, as well as to not embarrass or make another character uncomfortable, often gets to me and my Western way of thinking.  But that's neither here nor there.  It just is what is is.  I understand it completely, while knowing that if I were in that situation it would take every bit of me to hold myself back.


Could you live the questionable life of a Chinese scholar?  If so, would you have protested in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, after years underneath the suppression of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution?  Would you have survived the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre?  Or would you have not bothered to attend, content with not mixing your passion with your country's political system?  Among all the questions that surfaced out of the 323 pages of Ha Jin’s 2002 The Crazed, these were a few that I walked away wondering.

China, 1989.  The Crazed follows the discordant (literary-not-technical) narrative contemplations of a young Chinese graduate student named Jian Wan.  When Jian Wan’s mentor, and esteemed university scholar, Professor Yang, suffers from a sudden stroke, Jian Wan takes up the mantel as his part-time caregiver.  Furthermore, Jian Wan is engaged to Professor Yang’s daughter, Meimei.  However, Meimei's currently studying for her Ph.D. entrance exams away at Beijing University.  As for Professor Yang’s wife, Mrs. Yang, she's in Tibet on a veterinary expectation.  Therefore, Jian Wan is Professor Yang’s proposed immediate family.  So Jian Wan fulfills his duty of treating his ailing future father-in-law, even though he's not too great at it (a visit from the scornful Meimei shows as much).  The task proves to be anything but easy as Jian Wan watches his mentor succumb to his stroke in the form of demented outbursts, and the unconscious liberation of long lost secrets.  Nonetheless, it's through the sparsely coherent moments that Professor Yang attempts to urge Jian Wan to abandon his future in Chinese academia, and to even flee China.  At one point Professor Yang expresses lucidly, outside of the aftermath of his stroke: “’The more you know, the crazier you’ll go, like me.  Intellect makes life insufferable.  It’s better to be an ordinary man working honestly with yours hands.’”

And when you consider the time, country, and culture, there may be a sense of truth to Professor Yang's concerns.  

Nevertheless, much to the disappointment of the ever emotionally vacant ice princess, Meimei, and Jian Wan’s friends and superiors, Jian Wan begins to acknowledge the words of his rambling mentor as a possible embodiment of rational and political truths.  He questions the direction he chose to take his life in.  But can he really walk away from his path and passion?  Or is Professor Yang just schitzy in his paranoia, and shouldn't be taken seriously?

Writing & Background

I have to start with how drawn and captivated I became with The Crazed, and not only through the noted ramblings of Professor Yang.  Though those ramblings were entertainingly strange, poetic at times, and genuinely worthy of attention.  Nonetheless, it was through Ha Jin’s writing and storytelling that hooked me–almost trance-like.  The minute I glided to my bookshelf to find something to read, I picked up The Crazed and did not want to let it go.  I was absorbed in Jian Wan's personal story and narrative flow.  

As always, there is something precise and vigilant about Ha Jin’s writing, and that may be because English is his adopted language; furthermore, he, himself, is an adopted scholar and English professor in America.  Ha Jin is from Liaoning, China.  He joined China’s People’s Liberation Army (which is very present in The Crazed) when he was fourteen.  While Ha Jin earned his Masters in China, he ultimately (in 1986) arrived in the US to further his education at Brandeis University.  Eventually, he studied in Boston University’s Creative Writing Program, which completed his educational pursuits.  I assume that somewhere between his educational journey that he established his citizenship within the US, making America his home.  While knowing this tidbit of background information kind of fueled my personal appreciation of Ha Jin’s prose, it also reveals how his background is demonstrable to the material in his writing.  Or more precise, the inspiration behind The Crazed.  He—probably in more ways than one—is his character, Jian Wan.

Politics & Academia

Now on to some of the political elements within The Crazed.  As mentioned, Professor Yang sometimes leaps out of the dementia given by his stroke to discourage Jian Wan from embracing the life of a Chinese scholar.  Professor Yang’s argument is that it’s a needless career path, as long as China remains a Communist and retrogressive country that is anti-Western.  The further China balks at foreign notoriety; the further Chinese scholars extend their philosophies, credo, tenets, etc. in small circles among one another.  So what use is it to carry their ideologies without others to contend them with?  It is better to put aside those thoughts and instead push China toward a democratic shape by playing an "active" role in China‘s change?  Or is it better to sit still and continue to honor conformed roles?  (Incidentally, with all the novels, poetry, and short stories Ha Jin has written, only one is currently available in China.)

Those political-based thoughts are probably the main argument of the overall book, and not just the keystone to Jian Wan's sway.  Jian Wan weights Professor Yang’s concerns, moved by both the professor’s words and the apparent "consequence" of forging a life of closed academia.  And with that weighting, Jian Wan finds himself heading toward Tiananmen Square to take part in the country’s historic pro-democracy demonstrations that led to The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.  However, even toward the end you'll wonder which direction Jian Wan will choose?  Or is he brave enough to choose one?  Or even if he'll make it out alive to celebrate his choice?  

From its opening to its end, The Crazed is an intimately eye-opening book.  It's one of those stories that really took me through the speculative mind and musings of an individual I would love to sit down and learn something about life and choices from.

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