About this Item
Quantity Available: 1
Title: Bridegroom, The
Publisher: Pantheon, New York
Publication Date: 2000
Book Condition: Near Fine
Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine
Signed: Signed by Author(s)
Edition: 1st Edition
About this title
From the National Book Award-winning author of Waiting, a new collection of short fiction that confirms Ha Jin's reputation as a master storyteller.
Each of The Bridegroom's twelve stories--three of which have been selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories--takes us back to Muji City in contemporary China, the setting of Waiting. It is a world both exotic and disarmingly familiar, one in which Chinese men and women meet with small epiphanies and muted triumphs, leavening their lives of quiet desperation through subtle insubordination and sometimes crafty resolve.
In the title story, a seemingly model husband joins a secret men's literary club and finds himself arrested for the "bourgeois crime" of homosexuality. "Alive" centers on an official who loses his memory in an earthquake and lives happily for months as a simple worker; when he suddenly remembers who he is, he finds that his return to his old life proves inconvenient for everyone. In "A Tiger-Fighter Is Hard to Find," a television crew's inept attempt to film a fight scene with a live Siberian tiger lands their lead actor in a mental hospital, convinced that he is the mythical tiger-fighter Wu Song.
Reversals, transformations, and surprises abound in these assured stories, as Ha Jin seizes on the possibility that things might not be as they seem. Parables for our times--with a hint of the reckless and the absurd that we have come to expect from Ha Jin--The Bridegroom offers tales both mischievous and wise.
It's the little things that kill us, as that master of the miniature Ha Jin well knows. Not oppression in general, but the tea thrown at us by railroad policemen; not failure, but the old flame who fails to visit; not grief, but the peanuts our kindergarten teacher stole from our pockets. In The Bridegroom, such moments run surprisingly deep, as if they traced the grooves history has left on individual hearts. The book's 12 tales capture a China in transition, en route from Maoism to market-friendly socialism, from isolation to increasing contact with the West. "I never thought money could make so much difference," says the narrator of "An Entrepreneur's Story," who's been transformed from black-market lowlife to new-economy hero. He wins respect and gets the girl, but it all feels too easy somehow, and he revenges himself by lighting his kerosene stove with bank notes.
Other characters navigate this sea change with similar bewilderment. The professor mistaken for "The Saboteur" thinks news articles about the end of the cultural revolution mean he can reason with the police (wrong!), while the bridegroom of the title story is hauled off to jail for so-called hooliganism rooted in "Western capitalism and bourgeois lifestyle"--that is, loving other men. "What a wonderful husband he could have been if he were not sick," his father-in-law thinks. In the story that deals most explicitly with the conflict between East and West, an American chain named Cowboy Chicken sets up shop in Muji City. The new order isn't that different from the old one, thinks one of the Chinese workers: "We nicknamed Mr. Shapiro 'Party Secretary,' because just like a Party boss anywhere he didn't do any work. The only difference was that he didn't organize political studies or demand we report to him our inner thoughts." In the end, as often happens, greed begets revolution--but whose greed? When the workers at Cowboy Chicken go on strike, jealous of one of their coworker's paychecks, they're replaced by an African American woman who teaches English at a nearby college and her students, who sing "We Shall Overcome" while they wipe tables.
But as in Jin's National Book Award-winning novel, Waiting, even the broadest political and cultural ironies are painted with an extraordinarily light-handed brush. Despite their apparent simplicity, these stories run deep; it's as if some 19th century master had wandered into our midst, writing prose whose unruffled surface recalls the virtues of the very long view. Like Chekhov, another great miniaturist and the writer he most resembles, Jin understands that humor is compassion, that a well-honed appreciation for the absurd is sometimes the best and most honest way to honor failed lives. While his characters attempt to balance the needs of the self and the demands of the state, we see less what is foreign to us than what is native to the human heart. --Mary Park
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