Writing to Stave Off Compromise and Mental Incontinence


Goethe is “the great Tang poet,” according to the stroke-felled, invalid professor of Ha Jin’s The Crazed, gone mad from the twin burdens of literature and politics (e.g., memories of chanting Dante while dunce-capped under the Cultural Revolution). The Crazed has its characters attempting to stave off compromise and “mental incontinence,” at times in the absurdist tradition. Jin, a former soldier of the People’s Liberation Army and acclaimed author of novels including Waiting and 2004’s War Trash, could be doing something similar. Fittingly coming in a time of Guantánamos, War Trash is the memoir/captivity narrative of a Chinese P.O.W. held by Americans during the Korean War. Impeccable storytelling aside, Jin’s dialogue can be wickedly delicious (“I’m a practical person, a dialectical materialist.” “You’re like an animal”), and his throwaway details sweetly, sadly moving (a man leaves a room humming a love song banned for three decades). Reading with Jin is Hawaiian novelist and pidgin English proponent Lois-Ann Yamanaka, author of Blu’s Hanging, Heads by Harry, and the forthcoming Behold the Many.

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