Bookmarks Issue: 
Ha Jin


A-GoodFallA professor of English and creative writing at Boston University, Ha Jin left his native China to pursue graduate studies at Brandeis in 1985 and decided to remain in the United States after the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Among his critically acclaimed novels are Waiting (1999), the winner of the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and War Trash (2004), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. We profiled Jin in our Jan/Feb 2008 issue. A Good Fall is his fourth collection of short stories.

The Story: In the Queens, New York, neighborhood of Flushing, Chinese immigrants struggling with loneliness, loss, and uncertainty attempt to flesh out the boundaries of their new lives without losing the identities they forged in the old. A young, overworked waitress must cope with her sister’s incessant, e-mailed demands for money in "The Bane of the Internet." A university lecturer in "The English Professor" obsesses over a misspelled word in his application for tenure. In the title story, a Buddhist monk contemplates suicide after losing his job. For each of them, deep-rooted customs and obligations collide with their newly adopted values, relentlessly underscoring what they have both achieved and sacrificed by leaving home.
Pantheon. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780307378682

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In his latest short-story collection, A Good Fall, Jin continues his skillful and deeply felt exploration of immigrant conflicts. … China is no paradise lost, and America has its problems too. But both this story [‘A Good Fall’] and the collection as a whole celebrate immigrant resilience: the courage to embrace calamity, hit the pavement and keep walking toward a brighter future." Julia M. Klein

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Delicate generational and cultural differences subtly define [the characters’] unique situations, and Ha Jin unpacks the small details of their largely indistinct lives in ways that reveal their larger-than-life personal implications. … Though his slice-of-life stories hit every plot point, and his choices as a writer aren’t always evident, these understated clashes of culture reveal careful thematic design and provide an almost 360-degree view of this select human experience: The concerns of people everywhere trying to make a better life come alive, one deceptively simple story at a time." Christine Thomas

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"His masterful storytelling persists—meticulous, droll, convincing, populated with memorable characters—not to mention the indelible portrait of an immigrant life he gives us. What is also consistent is his prowess to study and reveal, often with heartfelt humor, the compromised and damaged heart and soul, and the impact of time and history on ordinary people." Fan Wu

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Jin employs a simple, workmanlike style to match the lives of his characters. But instead of feeling flat-footed, his unvarnished prose adds a no-nonsense charm to the stories. … Jin’s writing rings false only in the title story, in which he subjects a desperate impoverished monk to a series of unlikely plot turns that would make Frank Capra blush." Mark Athitakis

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As in any collection, these 12 stories vary in quality. … The strongest stories reflect the depth and skill Ha Jin exhibited in The Bridegroom (2000)—stories set in China. But even the weaker of the new ones give a sense of what it’s like to live a Chinese-American life." Anne Morris

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s an uneven collection in the best sense of the word, combining superfluous vignettes with moments of stark insight into an amalgamation that itself resembles a melting pot. … A few missteps don’t spoil a collection of sublime moments, not the least of which occurs in the title story, its plot capturing the entire arc of the immigrant experience." Clayton Moore

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His premises are gripping, his emotional bedrock hard and true. But in A Good Fall he doesn’t always succeed in the delivery. Anyone who travels these pages is sure to stumble on inelegant locutions." Marie Arana

Critical Summary

The talented Jin resumes his poignant examination of the conflicts inherent in the immigrant experience in these twelve stories, only two of which were previously unpublished. In simple, unadorned prose, often wryly humorous in its matter-of-fact observations, Jin crafts unique and believable characters, subtly molding them through the quiet details of their everyday lives. Jin’s minimalism belies the dexterity with which he constructs each story and interweaves universal themes of hope, love, independence, and death against the backdrop of a single expatriate community. The Washington Post found fault with some of Jin’s phrasing, and most critics predictably deemed the stories uneven (but could not agree on the best.) According to the Dallas Morning News, however, all of these clever, moving stories are well worth reading.

Also by the Author

The Bridegroom (2000): The twelve stories in this collection, all set in Jin’s native country, provide a tantalizing glimpse of a changing, post–Cultural Revolution China.