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A Good Fall

A dozen engrossing, visceral tales about the difficulties faced by Chinese immigrants in America.

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“How he regretted having tried so hard to come here! He’d been misled by the people who bragged about the opportunity found in America and wouldn’t reveal the hardship they’d gone through here.  They all wanted to appear rich and successful in their hometowns’ eyes,” an exploited young monk who’s been teaching kung fu without pay for two years laments in the title story of A Good Fall, Ha Jin’s first book of short stories since 2000.

It’s a sentiment echoed by many characters in these 12 engrossing, visceral tales about the difficulties faced by Chinese immigrants in America.

Like his last novel, “A Free Life” (2007), Jin’s new stories explore some of the ways in which navigating freedom and a new culture exact a toll. Interestingly, his characters, who live and work among other immigrants in  Flushing, (Queens,) New York, rarely interact directly with Americans. Instead, their hardships stem from abusive fellow Chinese employers, demanding relatives in both China and the States, and the rub between American and Chinese attitudes towards family duty.

For Jin’s characters – and, indeed, most immigrants – the great gateway to improved circumstances in America is learning English. It’s an especially challenging hurdle for older immigrants, but also for those scrabbling to earn enough to pay off lenders or send face-saving money back home to family members lusting after status symbols.

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