In the Pond
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In the Pond

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3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  888 ratings  ·  85 reviews
An arresting debut novel, "In the Pond" is a darkly funny portrait of Shoe Bin, an amateur calligrapher who wields his delicate artist's brush as a weapon against the party bureaucrats who rule his provincial Chinese town.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 21st 2000 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1998)
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Rebecca
This is a fiction book that tells the story of an amateur calligrapher who works at a factory in the 1970s. He gets in an ever-escalating battle with the Communist Party members in charge of the plant over them passing him over for new housing. He repeatedly uses his calligraphy as a weapon, choosing different styles for different situations in order to have the most effect. In some cases the book was hard to read, not because the writing was bad, but because I felt so bad for the protagonist an...more
Drew
I finished reading In the Pond, by Ha Jin, on Wednesday night. This was my introduction to his writing, although I’ve bought several of his books for Diane, including Waiting. She really loved that book. I fell in love with the simple prose and fantastic story of In the Pond. It’s part Sisyphus and part car crash. You watch the main character struggle against the system, manifested at increasingly higher hierarchical levels in himself, his family, his work unit, his factory, his town, his provin...more
Jose Araguz
Solid novel! Jin's writing here evokes the best things about Chekhov and Kafka - a sense of everyday people, their humanity, its pettiness and brilliance. The story revolves around Bin Shao, a worker in a commune who seeks to rise above his station in life. A common story, but the insight into communist China is illuminating. China as a setting is handled with such subtlety it never takes over the story. Reading it while applying to PhD programs makes Bin's struggle all the more relatable.
James
Ha Jin's first novel, In The Pond, tells the story of Shao Bin - a worker at a factory in a small Chinese town whose artistic talents go unappreciated by his superiors. What starts as trouble over housing allocations in the centrally-planned economy soon escalates into an exposé of corruption and allegations of persecution as Shao Bin's troubles continue to increase.

The concept of satire is at the heart of this novel both in its narrative and theme. Shao Bin is an artist and satirist foremost an...more
Mark
Ha Jin has the ability to just lock you into the angst that is going on in his books. I don't know what it is about his writing that slowly traps the reader like slipping into quicksand, but he can do that. This is a short book and I am not sure if there is a lesson or moral to it but until the end with the escape from his "situation" I too felt the anxiety of our Bin
Nathan Marone
What I saw in the short stories of The Bridegroom - the absurdity, the humor, the excavation of certain political realities - is all here in In the Pond, but more so. The book is essentially one long political skirmish between a calligrapher and his factory bosses. You'd like to think that what Jin presents here is particular to the Chinese reality, but I don't think it is. Most of what we read seems to be fairly universal: people in power have the resources to abuse that power and to suppress (...more
Juanita
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
James
Someone once said that satire was both the thing that defined Modernist Chinese literature, but also the element that has kept Chinese literature from progressing. In an almost grotesque way, this satire-forever paints an unsettling image of Chinese literature as only able to laugh, ceaselessly, at itself, at its own history, and, as always, at the bureaucracy of its own governments and politics.

Here, Ha Jin employs satire in an almost lazy fashion. The book is journey through a series of metaph...more
Rick Harrington
Finally, a chance to read - a chance read - of this fine author I had a chance to hear here in Buffalo on the Big Stage. There was an astonishing turnout then, as though this one writers' series is all there is that might, reliably, turn out everyone of a certain intellectual rank. 'What if everyone were to have read the same book?' And "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." Let's all read something different, how about? And compare notes.

Ha Jin's is clearly a superior intelle...more
Roger DeBlanck
In the Pond is Ha Jin’s first novel, a fiercely engaging and evocative story that is also serious and funny at the same time. The novel exposes the constraints of Chinese society through the events at a commune called Dismount Fort, where the main character, Shao Bin, a flinty and risky fellow, feels cheated out of his rights and status to attain new housing. He takes offense and turns his displeasure of the local leaders into action against them. He confronts their corruption by creating satiri...more
Cynthia
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Abby Jean
i had trouble with this book, but am not sure if it's about the book itself, or my lack of familiarity with chinese literature. the narrative and the characters were much more like a fable or an allegory than the novels i'm used to reading, so i felt like i had trouble connecting to the people or the story. i also had a hard time telling if the events and behaviors were typical of china, or exaggerated for effect. so it was interesting, but i'm not sure how much i got out of it.
Neil
A lovely little book. Ha Jin's writing is simple and touching and his characters sympathetic. His style is perfectly balanced, with description carefully used. I've written some of my favourite metaphors below, mostly as a record for myself.

The quotations on the back describe it as being about politics and art, but mostly a comedy. I'd add tragedy to that, but I guess that depends on how seriously we're meant to take the plight of the central character, and on the author's intentions.


"Who would...more
Peggy
This novella, beautifully written by Ha Jin tells the story of Shao Bin, a worker at the Harvest Fertilizer Factory in the Dismount Fort commune. Beyond being a factory worker, Shao Bin is very intelligent and a very talented artist,calligrapher and writer. After he is again overlooked to receive better housing for himself, his wife and child, Shao Bin uses his talents of cartooning and writing to make his frustrations known. His bosses retaliate by docking his bonus, publicly ridiculing him an...more
Rob
Earlier this month, I had my first taste of Ha Jin's writings and enjoyed his essay on Georgia which appeared in Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey's State by State. The same, understated, modest tone can be found in this super book, only slightly longer than a novella - a tale of infighting and bureaucracy in the People's Republic of a few years' ago - China, not South Yorkshire that is.

The book's hero, Shao Bin is a talented artist treading water in a dull factory job and on one level, Ha's book cou...more
Caitlyn
I really enjoyed the style of Ha Jin's writing. The plot was engaging and the characters were compelling and I loved it right up until the last ten pages or so.

On the surface it seemed like a story about a talented artist who struggles onward in his fight against The Man and eventually succeeds. However, while his persistence is admirable, the ending seemed ambiguous to me. I'm not sure what I thought about it; I felt like in the end Shao Bin lost his way and ended up getting trapped in a small...more
Sylvia
this is my first reading of Ha Jin and i will definitely read "Waiting". I like the moral of this book , the struggle of Bin for better life because he know he deserve it and he worked harder for that. How he fight and use his job calligraph as weapon , he didn't give up although everyone stand against him and few were beside him " A man has to stand alone" and no matter how old you are, nothing can stop you from learning and keep on working ..

and i also like that part between Bin and Yen Fu whe...more
Dyanna
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Marie
Reading the book is almost like living under Chairman Mao.
Hard life and always feelings out of control. I was reminded how much freedom I have as a U.S. citizen.
Noam Gordon
I think it's a good book. The author - Ha Jin - brings us rural China as it is, real colors and spices, and he shows his talent in doing that. This book is NOT boring; it's a fast read, because it makes one curious. Maybe the author intended to write book about never giving up (but then again, maybe not...). In any case it flows well - maybe one of the only books I can criticize by saying it flows too MUCH, is too fast. You feel like you're reading too fast, like you're on the highway, which is...more
James
In spite of myself, I'm becoming quite a fan of Ha Jin. Contrary to my usual preference his prose is austere in the extreme, and despite a very strong record as an American scholar there are times (especially when attempting dialog between profane or uneducated characters) when his English just does not come off at all.

I enjoyed IN THE POND even more than the more recent WAR TRASH, which I praised effusively on this site. It is a tragicomic farce that mocks with equal brutality the buffoonery of...more
Ronni
1) how else would we know what life in china is like?
2) makes you think about what is worth fighting and what is worth fighting for. then makes you rethink it. recommended for idealistic pragmatists or pragmatic idealists.also recommended for idealistic idealists and pragmatic pragmatists.
3) the language is at pared down but not sparse. even if you don't want to think about how to live with or get around convictions, worth reading for the writing itself. but if you don't notice the writing in w...more
Kirsten
i gulped this down. a fable-like look at life as a worker in a communist chinese factory. i felt after this and after his "waiting" how much i trust this author and then wondered why i would feel that way and whether i have a feeling of not trusting other novelists. maybe i have this feeling because the narrative voice is so modest. i have no sense that the author is saying "look at what a beautiful writer i am." though i suppose i also very much enjoy authors who make lots of flourishes.
James
This novella length book captures with humor the struggles of the protagonist, Shao Bin, with the socialist work policies during the reign of Mao. Resonances with "The Trial" by Kafka and "Journey to the West" make it an existential exploration of those times. Like the monkey king, every time Shao gets into trouble something turns it around to push him farther along his confrontation with his tormentors.
There are some great lines in the book and a satisfying ending. Enjoy.
Eliza Mansuetto Uribe
I read this with my book club. It is about a man and his family living in communist China working in a company and has trouble moving up in the world. It was a quick read and gave you interesting details of the culture and lifestyle of China in that time period. The conversations were intriguing also because they would often say strange things to each and make odd analogies, etc, but it was because the author wrote how they would speak in Chinese. Very interesting...
Kathleen
Ha Jin explores the inner side of China. The injustice, the bribes, ways that people are forced to "follow the rules". The story of Shao Bin, machine fixer in a fertilizer factory in his small room with his wife and child is denied nearly anything he asks for, while other "favorites" get what they want. Using his calligraphy to protest, he gets on the bad side of his bosses. As things deteriorate, one wonders if there is a way out of the "pond". Well written. Recommended.
David
It was interesting to me that this book centered around a man who wanted to be a calligrapher getting into conflict with local corrupt communist officials, because there is something resembling calligraphy in the words and the way they are strung together. It is simple, yet starkly elegant in that simplicity. It is definitely a planned elegance as opposed to mere lack of adornment, and it really is startling. It is clear, beautiful, and powerful.
Marcbaskin
I think his first novel. Very short and vivid but difficult for me to enjoy after reading many of his other novels.
Pascale
Like Ha Jin's other masterpiece "Waiting", "In the Pond" describes in minute but never boring detail the immense efforts ordinary Chinese citizens must make to navigate the arcane and rigid bureaucracy of their country, avoid falling foul of the people in power, and snatch minuscule amounts of material comfort and fleeting moments of relative freedom. Haunting.
pamelochka
I love this book. The main character is an editorial cartoonist, among other things, and since I was once one of these, too, I found a real kinship with this book. Ha Jin develops characters and their lives so richly; it makes it very easy to imagine details and envision the scene as if one were right there. Amazing writer.
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8055
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.
More about Ha Jin...
Waiting War Trash A Free Life The Bridegroom: Stories The Crazed

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