Exiles From Themselves

The New York Times reviews Ha Jin’s new book A Good Fall: Stories, which “explores the nature of displacement and the unease with which Chinese immigrants in the United States experience their new country”:

With skill and spareness, he uses the dozen stories in “A Good Fall” to dramatize lives in which hope has been crushed rather than abandoned, in which the struggle to find a place to live becomes as much a daily battle within the self as it is with society. His characters seem to be in exile not only from the China of their memories and dreams but from their very sense of who they are. Their emotional universe has become as circumscribed as their physical surroundings. Once inhabitants of a sprawling and familiar culture, they are now confined to a few rooms, a few streets.

Although Jin is more concerned with the patterns made by small lives under new pressures, there are times when the broader picture comes to the fore. “It’s foolish to think you’re done for,” the downtrodden hero of the title story is told by a friend. “Lots of people here are illegal aliens. They live a hard life but still can manage. In a couple of years there might be an amnesty that allows them to become legal immigrants.” To characters like this, immigration to a land of opportunity proves an occasion of loss as well as gain. They are ordinary people with modest expectations, modest even in what they notice and remember and imagine. This lack of color is reflected in Jin’s quiet, careful, restrained prose — prose whose absence of flourish can, at times, make it all the more eloquent.

The review also includes an excerpt of the book.

Read also reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Toronto Star.

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