Nan, American Man – John Updike

In the New Yorker, John Updike reviews Ha Jin’s new novel, A Free Life:

His new novel, “A Free Life,” (Pantheon; $26), is a relatively lumpy and uncomfortable work, of which a first draft, he confides in a brief afterword, was completed in the year 2000. In an interview that same year, with, he declared, “I plan to write at least two books about the American immigrant experience, but not my own story.” However, his dedication to “A Free Life” reads, “To Lisha and Wen, who lived this book”; Lisha and Wen are the names of Ha Jin’s wife and son. Nan Wu, the hero of “A Free Life,” also has a wife and son, Pingping and Taotao, and shares with Lin Kong, the protagonist of “Waiting,” a cautious, bookish nature and a nagging indecision in regard to a basic emotional choice. Lin, a military doctor, vacillates between a homely wife, chosen by his parents, back in his village, and a nurse in the hospital where he is posted; Nan, a graduate student adrift in America, cannot stop longing for an adored early love, Beina, who spurned him. [Full text]

Read also reviews of the book from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Slate. The Washington Post will host an online discussion with Ha Jin on December 6.

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