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From The Asian Reporter, V13, #22 (May 27-June 2, 2003), page 15.

Of madness, personal and political

The Crazed

By Ha Jin

Pantheon Books, 2002

Hardbound, 336 pages, $24.00

By Caricia Catalani

The Crazed is the latest novel by National Book Award winner Ha Jin ó the first full-length novel since his well acclaimed Waiting. Jin returns to his native China, exploring its loud obscurities, its quiet complexities, giving it light in a way that makes certain his place as a powerful voice of the Chinese diaspora.

The Crazed is a seductively simple story about Jian Wan, a young graduate student at Shanning University. Jianís studies for the Ph.D. exam are interrupted by his teacherís sudden stroke. He watches over the brilliant man, his hero, as his mind comes undone.

In his teacherís madness and unrestrained ranting, Jian discovers the truth about the manís life, his regrets, and his torments. His teacher wails that his life as an intellectual was served as a clerk to the state, as a tool for the party.

Jian is provoked by the great manís confessions, and decides to abandon his plans to pursue a life in academia ó a decision that causes him to lose his fiancťe. In the midst of this personal struggle, China is enveloped in violence, student protests threaten party leaders, and the state strikes back brutally.

Jian finds himself, almost accidentally, leading a group of students to Tiananmen Square. He witnesses the armyís massacre of townspeople and students in the streets of Beijing. Jian escapes the carnage, but local party officials identify him as a student leader in the rebellion and he is forced to flee his home. He leaves, never to return, forsaking his life, his name, severing a past that became so suddenly and so hysterically lethal.

The Crazed is a story about coming undone, about unraveling a mind, a nation, a dream. Jinís revolution is a force of small things: of a petty evil, of banal choices, of ordinary people. The real force behind a political movement is not heroism or even clarity of conviction, but ordinary people provoked by their other, more personal, struggles.

Ha Jin seamlessly and expertly parallels the tale of a young manís struggle to come into adulthood with that of a nation in upheaval, managing to neither aggrandize nor diminish the essential magnitude of either. The old are fallen and shamed; the young have to rise, even though they are without the grace of sure convictions, to build their own way. Ha Jinís The Crazed is brilliant in its simplicity, delicate with its provocation.

 

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