One of the reasons I decided to start writing my blog is because I wanted to share with as many people as possible my thoughts about the books I’m reading. And also because I thought this would be a platform to discuss about them and to exchange recommendations about good ones.
I already wrote about Jezabel here (amazing book about the fear of getting old) and this time I want to write about The crazed, that I read following an advice given by Orianne Dutka during our interview (read more about it here).
Before leaving for the Philippines (more about this amazing trip in the travel section of my blog), I bought the book at Page One, a wonderful bookshop/cafe/restaurant/lounge in TaiKooLi village. The people behind Page One opened their first bookshop in Singapore back in 1983 and since then, step by step and book by book, they have exported their concept abroad – now they are present in Mainland China, Taiwan, HK and Thailand – evolved into a brand, and started publishing and distributing their own titles, with a focus on arts and design. Today, they are the most interesting Asian book retailer and publishing house. And book-shopping there is always a pleasure!
Also, they have a membership card – my one card – that offers a discount of 10% on books, 5% on stationery and novelty items, and 15% at Page One Café. I got mine, and totally love it. I wrote about how much I love membership cards here and here!
I read the book while I was on holiday, mostly lying in the sunshine in Bohol. Ah, I miss those days!
Ha Jin, the author, was born in China in 1956, but emigrated to America after the Tiananmen incident in 1989. Since then, he has been writing his books in English, “to preserve the integrity of his work” as he said himself. The Crazed was published in 2002 and I think it should be read as a portrait of the human interior struggle in the communist Chinese society.
When professor Yang, a respectable teacher of literature at a provincial Chinese university, has a stroke, his pupil Jian Wan is asked to care for him. Since the diligent Jian is engaged to his mentor’s daughter, the job requires delicacy. Just how much delicacy becomes clear when Yang begins to rave and to talk about his life and his broken dreams and his repressed rage comes out.
The reader can’t understand if these are just the outpourings of a tired and sick mind, or if Yang is speaking the truth — about his family, his colleagues, and his life’s work. Jian can’t understand it either, and tries to deal with his loved professor feeling at the same time embarrassed, hurt and bewildered.
In the background, China and Beijing political protests. I think the author did a great job integrating the mundane daily life of the characters while incorporating them in the context of historical events. This was actually the most interesting aspect of the book.
Who are the crazed of the title? At first, you might think it’s professor Yang, gone insane after his stroke, ranting and raving from his hospital bed. But as it turns out, he seems to be the only clear-headed, the only one with a precise picture about Chinese society under suppressive control by the government.
Also Jian seems to go crazy during the novel – or does he rather become more knowledgeable? He decides to quit his academic career (a Ph.D. in Beijing) and his engagement with his beloved fiancée and even to join some of his fellow students in a trip to Beijing to join the protestors. Ha Jin demonstrates the overwhelming geographical scale of China quite effectively – he does this by keeping the student protests and the Tiananmen Square massacre at the fringes of the novel throughout the book. It only comes to the centre of the attention at the very end, and it grabs the spotlights. After his trip, Jian’s life won’t be the same anymore: his loved professor passed away, his room-mate disappeared while in Beijing, his fiancée left him for an older and more established man. In the last pages of the novel he is running away from the city police who is coming to arrest him, seen as a counterrevolutionary.
Jian, now completely crazed and fearful, grabs a few personal belongings, including a Panda radio and a few books, burns his student ID, cuts his hair very short and is ready to start a new life, using a different name.
I’m glad I bought and read this book – it was somehow mind-opening and I realized there are so many things to discover about China, Chinese people and history. Honestly I found the end a little bit disappointing – it all happens so fast, you don’t really have time to really follow Jian’s adventure. But I do believe the what matters is the journey, and not the destination. And the journey I went through by reading this book was fascinating.
If you want to read the book, you can buy it here. If you do so, please let me know your comments and impressions.
Also, if you have any recommendations for book club #3, please leve a comment here below!
While reading The Crazed in Bohol, I was delighted to wear:
Black&colorful bikini: Miss Bikini
Pictures were taken with my white iPhone 5.[map id=”34″]