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A Free Life

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,175 Ratings  ·  369 Reviews
From the award-winning author of Waiting, a new novel about a family's struggle for the American Dream.

Meet the Wu family-father Nan, mother Pingping, and son Taotao. They are arranging to fully sever ties with China in the aftermath of the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square, and to begin a new, free life in the United States. At first, their future seems well-assured. But

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Published November 16th 2007 by BBC Audiobooks America (first published January 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X 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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Jun 29, 2013 Colleen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jul 06, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
This was an audiobook I started 3 weeks ago but a trip interrupted my "reading." It starts in 1989 and is about a young Chinese man who has been sent to the US to do post-graduate work in political science (a subject area chosen for him by his cadre; he wants to be a poet). Chinese students here at that time were offered green cards to allow them to stay. Nan (the man), his wife PingPing, and their young son TaoTao struggle to how to make their way in the US, where they have more choices than th ...more
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.
Jun 26, 2015 Lois rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit long at 600plus pages, and you don't always like the characters, but I found this novel of a chinese couple and their young son who move to America pretty interesting. He wants to be a poet but must settle for other, regular jobs, and follow that ambition as more of a hobby. He admits to not really being in love with his wife and often finds himself thinking of a woman back in China who jilted him. His wife is a simple woman who loves him very much and worries that he will leave the family ...more
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.
Mar 31, 2016 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, 2016
I liked this book. Even though long parts of it at first may seem unnecessary or trivial, the sum total of all of it is grand. The evolution of Nan's character through his experiences from China to the US, his wife Pingping's story, his son Taotao's development -- in fact all the stories here -- are very tenderly told and moving, and they add up to a much better understanding of what it is like at the most personal level to immigrate to this country from China in the days before and after Tianan ...more
mr. swan
Apr 27, 2011 mr. swan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Well, i couldn't finish this book. I have loved Ha Jin's previous work, but this story of two Chinese immigrants trying to get by in America just didn't grab me. In the end, I just didn't care enough about the two main characters to keep reading.
Fémi Peters
Enorme coup de coeur pour ce livre! Nan, le héros du roman, est un immigré chinois qui vit aux Etats-Unis avec sa famille. Nous partageons ses rêves, ses doutes, ses colères et sa fascination quoique teintée d'inquiétude face au "rêve américain". Arrivera-t-il à s'acclimater dans son nouveau pays et à établir une relation sereine avec sa femme, Pingping? A construire un lien avec son fils Taotao qui a vécu quelques années en Chine loin de ses parents avant que ceux-ci puissent le faire venir en ...more
This is the first book I have listened to while driving around in my car. I listened in some pretty short bits and it took a few weeks to finish. Maybe people get good at paying attention while driving. On this attempt I am certain I missed whole sentences and who knows what else. I did back up the CD a few times to repeat parts. Overall, I liked the story of Chinese immigrants to America and the challenges they faced to make a living. I think about the story since finishing it and I picked up a ...more
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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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“You said, ‘Life is a tragedy, but its meaning lies in how we face the tragedy.” 4 likes
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