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A Free Life

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3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  2,304 Ratings  ·  385 Reviews
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
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Paperback, 672 pages
Published January 27th 2009 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2007)
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Petra Eggs
May 05, 2015 Petra Eggs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Ha Jin's Waiting with its precise writing, its absence of adjectives and the cool, objective yet somehow deeply emotional stance was like no style I had ever read before. I am not a fan of the florid, whether paintings, poetry or books, yet minimalism of the written word always seems to me to me to be a self-conscious style, a deliberate attempt at being thought 'an artist'. Waiting was just perfectly balanced and so I was looking forward to reading another Ha Jin.

It's quite different, much more
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Sarah
Jun 23, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Chinese immigrant moves to Boston and becomes disenchanted with his political science studies, so he drops out of university and struggles to take care of his family, doing a series of low-paying, somewhat demoralizing, exhausting jobs. What he really wants to do is write poetry. He can't seem to forget his ex-girlfriend, even though he's married to someone else -- someone wonderful -- and has a child with her. As the years pass, in slow but beautifully-written, simple detail, he learns to coo ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Nov 08, 2009 Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jeanette by: Kristine B
The most thorough treatment of the Asian immigrant experience you're ever likely to find. All of the most intricate details ring so clear and true. Only someone who has lived this experience could render it so honestly and poignantly. I am in awe of Ha Jin's mastery of English. He's so careful with the language, choosing just the right words and placing each exactly where it belongs. He has a better command of the language than many native speakers. Remarkable!

Through the character of Nan Wu, th
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Zinta
Jan 05, 2009 Zinta rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had the privilege of meeting Ha Jin when he visited Kalamazoo College some years ago, when I still worked there in media relations, and so when his name came up again - this time as an author to read in a new bookclub I have joined at my new workplace - I took up his newest novel, "A Free Life," with warm anticipation. To add to that sense, Ha Jin will be visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a few days from this writing, and I look forward to hearing him speak of his new work.

Perhaps hearing H
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Stephen
The first of Ha Jin’s writing to be primarily set in the United States, A Free Life is a meandering, yet nevertheless beautifully written novel, expounding upon and nuancing the prototypical Asian American immigrant narrative. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Wu family (comprised of Nan Wu, the father, Pinging Wu, the mother, and Taotao, the son) must forge a new life in the United States. After Nan drops out of graduate school in political science at Brandeis University, t ...more
Баясгалан Батсуурь
"If you want to sing
sing clearly
Let grief embolden your song."

Recent days have been passing quiet cheerful with this novel by Ha Jin. Although i have finished it, i know its melancholic atmosphere will linger on in my mind for some more time. It seems to me that Ha Jin is a great novelist with his brilliantly detailed, quite realistic writing. More importantly, "A free life" gave me a new inspiration to write poetry again which i had left in the middle of my way.
jo
Jun 25, 2016 jo marked it as read-enough  ·  review of another edition
dude. i'm not even a fifth of the way through and i've heard that
1. it's very hard for a chinese immigrant in post-tiananmen forced migration of chinese students to get a job, let alone a decent job.
2. the protagonist is unhappy.
3. he doesn't reciprocate his wife's big love for him but is somehow bound to her for the sake of his child
two hundred fifty three times

yeah, no.
Nancy
Mar 28, 2008 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read several books by Ha Jin, and this was the first time I was conscious of reading English as a Second Language. That's not actually a complaint. The story is about a Chinese man, a poet, who brings his family to the United States to pursue the American dream. The occasionally jarring idioms or strange wordings just kept me closer to the character. By the end of the book, especially after reading the poems in the appendix, I was in awe of the writer's achievement in English. Also, the sto ...more
Colleen
Jun 29, 2013 Colleen rated it did not like it
I'm a little disappointed thus far, but I'm only about 100 pages into it. People gush about this author, but I find that his English prose isn't as engaging as I expected it to be. The concepts are interesting...but I'm not digging the writing.

Having finally finished: 600+ pages of driftiness! There is no plot, just the internal musings of a man trying to find himself. Sometimes, though, in mid-chapter the point of view changes to other characters, even incidental ones about whom we know little.
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Alicia
Dec 24, 2007 Alicia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sigh. I wanted this book to be awesome--Ha Jin is awesome!--but it REALLY could have benefited from closer editing. It was way too long and dragged a bit--not that his story of a Chinese family acclimating to life in America isn't a great one, but really nothing much happens in it. It's all about a wannabe poet's daily life, which is great, but hard to get caught up in for 600+ pages. Not to mention a couple of character notes that kept popping up--if you've already said that a couple act like n ...more
Nancy Petralia
Jun 14, 2011 Nancy Petralia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Molly
Feb 09, 2013 Molly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful, gently-unfolding story of the lives of a Chinese family- Nan and Pingping Wu,and their son Taotao - who must make a life in the United States after the Tiananmen Square massacre prevents them from returning to China. It does what good novels do; draws you into an unfamiliar world, one that seems to have no identifiable signposts, until you are captive by the recognition and reminder of all that unites us, whatever our nationality or native tongue.

It's not a heart-racing narrative. It
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Diane
Aug 30, 2012 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Free Life is one of the best portrayals of the experience of immigrants to the US that I've read. Ha Jin captures the pervasive anxiety and uncertainly that both motivates the Wu family's achievements and at the same time sets them apart. The reader constantly fears that racism or flimflam artists or bad decisions will destroy the family, but instead they face illness, temptations to infidelity, financial strains,the loneliness and isolation of suburban life, conflicts with children--common ex ...more
G
Jul 17, 2007 G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: high-caliber
A striking, sobering portrayal of modern immigrant life - a story that has not often been told, but one that has a rich history. As the Wu family moves throughout the eastern United States, ever seeking the American Dream and the happiness that they feel certain to one day acheive, Ha Jin peels back layer after layer, exposing the complexities at the heart of mother, father, and son.
Dianne
Oct 08, 2015 Dianne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of the best books I've ever read. Really an epic story, that kept me eager to turn the page to read about this family of Chinese immigrants. It brought home the fact that even though we come from different backgrounds, the emotions we feel can link us together. I wish the author, Ha Jin, would continue this story in another book.
Jessica Keener
Oct 17, 2012 Jessica Keener rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Am in the middle of reading this and loving it; savoring the day-to-day details and intimacy of despair, desire, striving that the protagonist, Nan,experiences as tries to find who he is. Cultural dissonances saturate the characters who have left China (by choice or exile) to live in America.
MaryJo
Nov 23, 2016 MaryJo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Waiting and the Crazed. Both of them intrigued by with their appreciation for the quotidian and their pacing. The Free Life is the first novel by Ha Jin I have read that takes place in the US. It is the story of a man who come to the US as a grad student in Political science (not his choice), who decides not to return to China after the student uprising and Tiananmen Square protests. He and his wife stay in the US and bring their young son to join them here. Nan, the protagonist, leaves g ...more
Cik Aini
I borrowed this from my friend, I wanted to give this book a higher rating, but towards the end, it wasn't satisfying enough.

The book started off with Taotao arriving in the United States, and he was welcomed by his parents, Nan & Pingping. The story started off quite well, I was wondering the ending would be when they made it in the United States. Nan, a graduate student quit his study and wanted to provide better life for his family. Even though, he married Pingping out of love, but they s
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Jennifer
I definitely had mixed feelings about this book. A lot of the time I just wanted to smack the main character. After reading many stories of immigrants who have come to America and won through struggles much more severe than this man he seemed whiny and ungrateful. For instance when he fell into a depression because the struggle to pay off his mortgage wasn't as hard as he'd thought it would be so it wasn't as big of a victory. However, as the book went on I began to think that maybe this was an ...more
Ed
Apr 12, 2016 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ha-jin
I really loved this book--every word seems to be exactly the right one. One (at least this one) marvels at Ha Jin's extraordinary command of English, putting him in the polylingual stratosphere with Conrad, Beckett, Nabokov, etc. It has been several years since I read "A Free Life" but I still can recall the thrill of discovery, having read only Ha Jin's shorter works before this one.

Nan and Pingping Wu are classic strivers in the Horatio Alger rags to riches, pull yourself up by your bootstrap
...more
Hilary
Feb 03, 2014 Hilary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book made me want to befriend Nan Wu, this novel's shy and philosophical protagonist. I also wanted to taste the food he served as his restaurant. When I finished it, I was moved by the "journal" and "poetry collection" that served as an epilogue. At some points while reading the novel, I started to feel like I was staring into Nan Wu's belly button, or even picking lint out of it. Fortunately, the novel comes up for air and balances its intense interior portrait of one character wi ...more
Pat
Feb 23, 2008 Pat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I looked back at all of the books I have chosen for reviews to try to find a book I read last year (or actually an audio book that I listened to that I really liked) and I could not find a reference in all of these many books that I've noted. That's unfortunate becausew that book, which was about the Indian acclimitization to America has many similarities to this book. The culture is different here, but the goals end up being similar. I liked this book, just as I liked the previous one that I, u ...more
Linda
Mar 30, 2008 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Simple, beautiful, direct prose that examines what a free life means. Follows the life of Nan, a political science student at Brandeis, and his wife Pingping, who together struggle to get their son to the U.S. from China afer the Tiananmen massacre. Nan works a series of jobs, eventually owning a restaurant and a home in the southeast, all the time trying to balance his dream to be a poet with the practicalities of providing security for his family. I enjoyed the language of this book, as well a ...more
Carol
Sep 13, 2016 Carol rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book on CD in my car on a long drive to MD. While it gave wonderful insight into life as a Chinese immigrant to America, the main character, Nan, had little appeal to me. I liked learning about his American and Chinese life experiences, but I grew weary with his adolescent infatuation with a woman who had mistreated him. I thought Nan's wife was more patient than he deserved, knowing her husband still cared for his old flame. I did like when the book focused on what Nan and hi ...more
Stephanie
Aug 03, 2008 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Ha Jin's writing is both concise and descriptive, a very difficult line to walk. In his novels, the characters and their worlds are complex, without resorting to overdramatization or hyperbole. In "A Free Life," the characters spend most of the time quietly contending with their own internal conflicts and struggles, and these lend even more depth to their personalities as the book progresses. A synopsis of the plot might make it appear that not much happens, but as in everyday life, much of what ...more
Rebecca
Apr 19, 2008 Rebecca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rebecca by: booksense
Shelves: fiction
I finally finished this book. It's looong -- in terms of pages and also in terms of narrative. Or lack of narrative. It's mostly a description of the daily life of a Chinese immigrant pursuing the American Dream, questioning the American Dream, and trying to make peace with China and his first love. The language was spare and beautiful but also sort of flat -- the book was written in English, but it was clearly thought in Chinese. The hard work and isolation and insecurity rang very true for me. ...more
Kerri
Feb 07, 2015 Kerri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well this has been on my to read list for a long, long time, but glad I read it. It was a hard book to put down. I really enjoyed both Nan and Pingping small triumphs and struggles making a life for themselves in America. the only thing that bothered me was how the accent was portrayed. sometimes they sounded German or french in my head, but I'm sure Ha Jin knows how to write a Chinese American accent better than I can. So I can't really complain about that.

2015 challenge: a book over 500 pages
...more
Rachele
Jul 29, 2008 Rachele rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read tons of positive reviews of this book, and was really looking forward to it... but then I wasmiserably disappointed. Got through probably the first 100 pages but then sentences like, "he wished he loved his wife, but he relaly didn't that much," got to me... these were the 2 main characters being described! What kind of description of human emotion is that! I guess it's just something about Jin's writing style, but I thought it was awful.
Sylvia
Nov 18, 2008 Sylvia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed how this book focused on the everyday life of an immigrant coming to the states to make a life. Whereas a lot of Jin's books are pretty heady, it was interesting to watch him slow down an take the steps of building a life one by one. I think having a personal connection to the immigrant experience makes this book more interesting as well.
Jane
Aug 28, 2009 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book, though its quiet pacing may not be to everyone's taste. His writing and perspective are so sensitive and subtle, yet there is nothing sentimental here. The story is more linear than intricate, which adds to its naturalness. The immigrant's journey into American life is a fascinating subject, and Ha Jin -- along with Jhumpa Lahiri -- is a master.
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Ha Jin is the pen name of Xuefei Jin, a novelist, poet, short story writer, and Professor of English at Boston University. Ha Jin writes in English about China, a political decision post-Tiananmen Square.
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