Like his main characters, Ha Jin is from Harbin China, came to the USA to study, enrolled in Brandeis University, and decided to stay after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, from there the story of the characters and their creator diverge. Ha Jin was studying English Literature, not Political Science, he went on to be a professor and highly successful author with many awards including the National Book Award, Pen Faulkner Award, and Pen Hemingway Award. Free Life opens with Nan and Pingping, nervously awaiting the arrival of this six year old son, Taotao. The Tiananmen Square Massacre has solidified their decision to settle in the USA. It has also made other changes in the course of their lives. Nan was in the PHD program at Brandeis University, upset over what he was seeing happen in the lead up to the massacre, he made an off the cuff hotheaded statement, the kind of thing you might say to blow off steam, not realizing it would be taken seriously by the dozen other people in the room. He is sickened by the situation in China, upset with himself, and wants nothing more to do with Political Science. Well educated and respected in China, in the US he is a dishwasher, night watchman, and doer of odd jobs. Free Life follows Nan and Pingping’s fortunes as they work hard, try to understand their new country, deal with the attitudes of others, and build a life for themselves. Ha Jin gives an intimate portrait of the emigrant experience. In many of his novels a strong female character steals the story. This is true here too. Nan married Pingping on the rebound from a heartless female siren. The flame is continues to burn for his old paramour after his marriage to Pingping. Realizing her husband does not love her, Pingping nevertheless works hard to be a good, supportive wife and doting mother. As the story moves forward, the reader hopes Nan will awaken to the character of this strong, feisty woman— Deon Stonehouse
A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Entertainment Weekly, Slate
In A Free Life, Ha Jin follows the Wu family — father Nan, mother Pingping, and son Taotao — as they sever their ties with China in the aftermath of the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square and begin a new life in the United States. As Nan takes on a number of menial jobs, eventually operating a restaurant with Pingping, he struggles to adapt to the American way of life and to hold his family together, even as he pines for a woman he loved and lost in his youth. Ha Jin's prodigious talents are in full force as he brilliantly brings to life the struggles and successes of the contemporary immigrant experience.
About 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.
“Exquisite and resonant...Jin has fashioned a ruminative, capacious, covertly ironic and quietly revealing tale of one family's pursuit of the American Dream.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Striking. . . . Jin's language has ripened into something extraordinary.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“[A Free Life] transforms the genre…. The narrative unfolds on such an intimate, domestic scale…that it takes a while to realize that this is also an epic.”
—Robert Pinsky, Slate
“A leisurely, generous tale….As vast and unbounded as the brave and overwhelming new world it describes.”