Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Crazed - Ha Jin

The Crazed tells the story of Jien Wen, a graduate student in China during the Tienanmen Square uprising. When his soon to be father-in-law, and academic mentor, suffers a debilitating stroke, Jien is tasked as one of his caretakers. Jien spends every afternoon attempting to study for his PhD qualifying exams, but instead finds himself distracted by his old professor's ranting and raving about Mao and the weaknesses of being an academic. At first, Jien dismisses everything as the delusional words of a sick man, but eventually, he begins to believe what is being said, and he begins to question his professional and academic choices, as well as his pending marriage. I found The Crazed to be a frustrating read. Jien seemed so easily influenced by the old man's words. But, at the same time, much of what Jien felt able to choose in terms of his future was dictated by those in political power, who he knew, and how much he was able to bribe or give in exchange. The ideas of meritocracy, freedom, and fairness are non-existent, as Jin sets the story along the backdrop of Tienanmen Square, where everyone is under suspicion for simply trying to assert their rights. Jien is in an eternally frustrating position just by being who he is and living in China at this time. Jin does an amazing job of capturing the frustration of feeling trapped - where the rantings of a madman suddenly seem like the only sane advice around.

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