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    Edward Carey: IMG 10 Best Books by Writer-Illustrators

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The Crazed


The Crazed Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Early on in The Crazed, Weiya chides the narrator, “Youre a bit too emotional, perhaps because youre not experienced in life yet” [p. 119]. Do you agree with her? Why did Ha Jin choose Jian as the narrator? What are Jians strengths and weaknesses as a character and a narrator? How does his lack of objectivity affect your reading? Is his version of the events throughout the course of the novel believable? How does the narrators sense of self evolve? Is this ultimately a coming-of-age novel?

2. What American notions of China and its particular form of communism are confirmed or challenged in this novel? What do you think Ha Jin is saying about Chinese communism and its effect on the individual and society?

3. What determines/undermines romantic attachments in this novel? Are there any fulfilled and satisfied love relationships in this novel? How do the relationships compare or contrast to those in Waiting, if youve read Ha Jins earlier novel? What is Ha Jin saying about love, romantic or otherwise?

4. Professor Yangs students dislike studying political science, but he defends it as crucial and invaluable, “Human beings have always lived in some kind of political environment” [p. 199]. Later he pontificates that, “Its personal interests that motivate the individual and therefore generate the dynamics of history” [p. 320]. What do you think of these two statements? Do you agree with Professor Yang?

5. “Whats the good of poetry? It just gets your hopes up” [p. 136]. According to Professor Yang, what is the fundamental difference between Western and Chinese poetry? What is the significance of the Tu Fu poem, “Song of My Straw Hut Shattered by the Autumn Wind” [p. 132], that Yang quotes as his own ?

6. Ha Jin gives us minute details of everyday life in Shanning townthe sight of billboards promoting “Aim High, Go All Out” and of laundry on balconies flapping in the wind, the taste of simmering tofu and pomegranate tea, and the smell of stewed radishes. Why all these details? Is this Ha Jins narrative style or is he detailing ordinary life in China for his Western audience?

7. The natural landscape is absent from The Crazed until Jian leaves Shanning for the countryside. How do the descriptions of the countryside and its inhabitants compare to views in famous Chinese movies such as Yellow Earth and Ju Dou, if youve seen any of these? What are the symbolic differences between the town and the countryside, and later the capital, Beijing? What is the importance of each place and its role in the context of the entire novel?

8. What is the significance of Chinese custom officials confiscating the Bible? And of the Genesis story retold by Professor Yang? Why does Ha Jin introduce this in the beginning of the novel?

9. Animal imagery permeates the first half of the book. What do the animals signify? Why do most of the characters resemble animals? Professor Yang is likened to a piglet, a fish, a harnessed horse, and a rabbit; Yangs wife to a praying mantis; the nurse to a chicken; the crazy cafeteria man to an owl. Is this connected somehow to the Genesis story?

10. What does Jian learn from traveling to and around Beijing, and from experiencing the historical events of Tiananmen Square in June 1989? How does it affect his life, and the story?

11. What do you think of Professor Yangs ranting and raving? Do you think he is talking to Jian in particular or to anyone who will listen? Is this a manifestation of his illness or is Yang yelling out the truth from his sickbed?

12. In what ways is this novel about power relationshipsbetween teacher and student, ordinary students and Party member students, teacher and department head, older students and younger students, boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, the individual and the bureaucratic system? In what ways does the Communist Party bureaucracy affect the various relationships in the novel? How do these relationships change over the course of the spring, as the professor lays dying? Does any one group or individual emerge victorious over another? Are there any betrayals in the novel? Who betrays whom?

13. Who or what is the crazed? What does the title refer to? What does it imply?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Michelleyevshky, June 21, 2007 (view all comments by Michelleyevshky)
This is the first novel of Jin's that I've read. I was not disappointed and give this book a loud, standing ovation.

After his academic advisor and prospective father-in-law collapses from a stroke, Jian, a graduate student studying poetics, is assigned to care for the professor. As Professor Yang grows increasingly more neurotic with each passing day, Jian faces a devastating personal crisis within himself while pondering the mysteries and paradoxes pointed parroting from his old mentor uncorks.

This book is subtle and slow-moving, the words culled to bare essentials. The plot progression relies heavily upon psychological deconstruction of its characters, but unlike in Russian literature, it deconstructs characters through the seive of Jian, a fallible tool for such a job, and the reader is left knowing more of Jian from this perspective and less of of the peripheral minor characters shuffling forward to the bubbling finale of The Crazed.

I enjoyed reading Jin's use of the English language, as it is fresh and interesting, unfettered by certain colloquial ruts a native American English speaker tends to use. Whenever possible within the English language rules of word order he seems to place the verb as his core and bends his sentences and extremities around those verbs. The result is a certain fluidity that unlike some (say me, for example) doesn't get hung up on phonemes and fluff.

This book was excellent and masterful, like the stiff, bitter, and neutral taste of vodka. I'll be reading more of Ha Jin, you can be sure of it.
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Product Details

Jin, Ha
New York
Teacher-student relationships
Cerebrovascular disease
College teachers
Graduate students
Literature teachers
Wan, Jian
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;china;novel;asian;literature;historical fiction;contemporary fiction;chinese literature;21st century;asia
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage International
Series Volume:
issue 6
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.01x5.21x.71 in. .74 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Crazed Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$13.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375714115 Reviews:
"Review" by , "At its best, this has some of the pacing and texture of a skillfully constructed mystery....Not one of Ha Jin's better efforts. Still, readers who've admired his [other] fiction won't want to miss it."
"Review" by , "[P]owerful....Ha's story is permeated by a grief that won't be eased or transmuted by heroic images of resistance....Like Gao Xingjian, Ha continues to refine his understanding of politics as an unmitigated curse."
"Synopsis" by , In his luminous novel, the author of "Waiting" deepens his portrait of contemporary Chinese society while exploring the perennial conflicts between convention and individualism, integrity and pragmatism, loyalty and betrayal.
"Synopsis" by , A New York Times Notable Book

A Washington Post, Los Angeles times, and San Jose Mercury News Best Book of the Year

Ha Jins seismically powerful new novel is at once an unblinking look into the bell jar of communist Chinese society and a portrait of the eternal compromises and deceptions of the human state. When the venerable professor Yang, a teacher of literature at a provincial university, has a stroke, his student Jian Wan is assigned to care for him. Since the dutiful Jian plans to marry his mentors beautiful, icy daughter, the job requires delicacy. Just how much delicacy becomes clear when Yang begins to rave.

Are these just the outpourings of a broken mind, or is Yang speaking the truth—about his family, his colleagues, and his lifes work? And will bearing witness to the truth end up breaking poor Jians heart? Combining warmth and intimacy with an unsparing social vision, The Crazed is Ha Jins most enthralling book to date.

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