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A Good Fall (Vintage International)by Ha Jin
Reading Group Guide
1. In the opening story of A Good Fall, the narrator thinks: “I used to believe that in the United States you could always reshape your relationships with the people back home—you could restart your life on your own terms. But the Internet has spoiled everything—my family is able to get hold of me whenever they like. They might as well live nearby” (pp. 5–6). In what other stories does the theme suggested in this passage—the desire to escape the past and start a new life in America—appear?
2. What role does the setting—Flushing, Queens—play in these stories?
3. The main characters in the stories of A Good Fall are, in many ways, quite different from one another, running the gamut from an English professor to a prostitute. In what ways are they and their situations similar?
4. In “A Composer and His Parakeets,” Fanlin is composing the music for an opera in which the hero claims that “greatness in art is merely an accident.” But Fanlin cannot accept this idea and feels that “no art should be accidental” (p. 12). What accidents in the story inspire Fanlin’s own artistic creation? In what other stories do accidents play a major role?
5. What expectations do the protagonists of these stories bring to the United States? In what ways are those expectations frustrated or fulfilled?
6. How do the characters in these stories try to solve the dilemmas they find themselves in? What are some examples of their resilience and resourcefulness?
7. In “A Pension Plan,” Minna tells Niu, “I do trust you, Aunt Niu, but we’re in America now, where even the air can make people change” (p. 170). How are the main characters in these stories changed by America? How does being in American change the way they view their homeland?
8. How does America appear as seen through the eyes of the Chinese immigrants in A Good Fall? What challenges and opportunities does America present for them?
9. In “Temporary Love,” Lina’s husband essentially blackmails her into paying for his business school tuition. In what other stories are characters pressured financially or treated unfairly over money?
10. What are the pleasures of Ha Jin’s storytelling style? How does he manage to make his writing at once so simple and so engaging?
11. Short stories generally revolve around a conflict that is introduced, developed, and then either resolved or left open. What kinds of conflicts occur in the stories of A Good Fall? Which stories exhibit strong closure? Which ones are more open-ended?
12. How has Ha Jin ordered the stories in A Good Fall? Is there a clear progression? Why would he end the collection with a story in which the protagonist attempts to kill himself?
13. Much of what happens in the book is peculiar to Chinese immigrants, but what aspects of these stories might be true of the immigrant experience more generally?
14. The stories in A Good Fall are pervaded by anxiety and an often brutal struggle to survive. What moments of tenderness and compassion stand out?
15. How might these stories be received by Chinese contemplating emigration to the United States?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)
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