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The Crazed Paperback – 3 Oct 2002


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  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd; Airport/Export ed edition (3 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434010537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434010530
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,972,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Expertly done" Daily Mail "A compelling book... [Jin] has a fine sense of the human scale of history and an eye for the absurd" Guardian "[Jin's] new novel...again demonstrates his literary gifts" The Times "A fascinating tale told with skill and eloquence; a truly wonderful read" Publishing News "The Crazed...is a complicated web of human attachments. Like the best realist writers, Ha Jin sneaks emotional power into the plainest declarative sentences" New Yorker --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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'Reading [Ha Jin] is almost like falling in love' New Yorker --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 Nov 2002
Format: Hardcover
Originally written in draft form around the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, Ha Jin's novel recreates those tumultuous times and the forces which built up and exploded in student protest--the stifling of true inquiry and creativity, institutionalized adherence to old-style, hard line bureaucracy, and an all-powerful state which manipulates every aspect of a person's destiny, from education and career path to place of residency and choice of spouse. With candor and a sense of immediacy, Ha Jin illuminates the pressures and frustrations of Chinese academic life, as seen by Jian Wan, studying for his Ph.D. entrance exams in literature, and by Prof. Yang, his mentor and academic advisor.
When Prof. Yang, who is also Jian Wan's future father-in-law, suffers a serious stroke, Jian Wan is the one who must tend him in the hospital. Half-crazed and irrational, Prof. Yang has moments of lucidity in which he speaks urgently to Jian and offers heartfelt advice, but most often Jian finds him singing songs from his childhood, recalling nightmarish events from the long-buried past, and reliving conversations and recent events which have dramatically affected both his personal relationships and his career.
As Jian listens to Prof. Yang, he finds himself examining his own life and goals with a more critical and discerning eye, becoming more and more disillusioned by the injustices he sees all around him, both within the academic community and in the countryside, where poverty is still rampant, the people are utterly powerless, and life is a hopeless search for a way out.
Filled with fascinating insights into the nature of life in a totalitarian state, the novel is both moving and enlightening, though it is sometimes didactic.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 Jan 2006
Format: Paperback
Originally written in draft form around the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, Ha Jin's novel recreates those tumultuous times and the forces which built up and exploded in student protest--the stifling of true inquiry and creativity, institutionalized adherence to old-style, hard line bureaucracy, and an all-powerful state which manipulates every aspect of a person's destiny, from education and career path to place of residency and choice of spouse. With candor and a sense of immediacy, Ha Jin illuminates the pressures and frustrations of Chinese academic life, as seen by Jian Wan, studying for his Ph.D. entrance exams in literature, and by Prof. Yang, his mentor and academic advisor.
When Prof. Yang, who is also Jian Wan's future father-in-law, suffers a serious stroke, Jian Wan is the one who must tend him in the hospital. Half-crazed and irrational, Prof. Yang has moments of lucidity in which he speaks urgently to Jian and offers heartfelt advice, but most often Jian finds him singing songs from his childhood, recalling nightmarish events from the long-buried past, and reliving conversations and recent events which have dramatically affected both his personal relationships and his career.
As Jian listens to Prof. Yang, he finds himself examining his own life and goals with a more critical and discerning eye, becoming more and more disillusioned by the injustices he sees all around him, both within the academic community and in the countryside, where poverty is still rampant, the people are utterly powerless, and life is a hopeless search for a way out.
Filled with fascinating insights into the nature of life in a totalitarian state, the novel is both moving and enlightening, though it is sometimes didactic.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 44 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
A "crazed" life as a reflection of society 25 Oct 2002
By stackofbooks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Professor Yang of Shanning University, China, is "The Crazed" of Ha Jin's new novel. Having just suffered a stroke, he is given to frequent rants, many pieces of which hint at a wretched life lived. His faithful graduate student and soon-to-be son-in-law Jian Wan is assigned by the university to attend to the professor's daily needs. In the sparse hospital room, he cannot help listening in on the rants. As he does, Wan tries to understand the deep sense of loss that his professor has suffered. It is later evident to the young graduate student that the professor has had to deal with much personal pain and a fruitless existence. "Every intellectual is a clerk in China", Professor Yang raves, "just a clerk, a screw in the machine of the revolution." The professor's unfortunate life eventually changes the course of at least three others.
Jian Wan himself is desperately trying to hold it all together-caring for his professor while his PhD qualifying exams loom around the corner. The fate of these exams will determine whether or not he can make it to Beijing to be with his ambitious fiancée, Meimei (Yang's daughter). At first, Jian Wan assumes he has no other choice than follow the scholarly course that has been charted for him. However, Yang's endless rants about the meaningless existence of a scholar, along with a transformative trip to the countryside, point him in another way. "As a human being, I should spend my life in such a way that at the final hour I could feel fulfillment and contentment, as if I had completed a task or a journey." Jian Wan says. He no longer wants to pretend to be a scholar, but live instead, a truly productive life. As Jian Wan tries to find a way out, he realizes he is powerless in a society that crushes all dissent. The final pages of The Crazed find Wan in the midst of the cathartic events of Tiananmen Square.
Ha Jin's sparse writing style, which was on wonderful display in "Waiting", is as effective as ever. His words are as clinical and precise as the hospital room in which much of the novel is set. The pace moves forward rapidly and well. Sometimes, I found that the professor's rants covered a lot of space in the text prolonging the suspense a bit too much. These sections set in the hospital with an almost unrelenting focus on the professor were a little claustrophobic.
Despite these small distractions, the main story comes through loud and clear in Ha Jin's wonderful book. The machinations of a government that can manipulate the smallest events in its citizens' lives are on awful display here. Jian Wan in the novel sees an image of China: "in the form of an old hag so decrepit and brainsick that she would devour her children to sustain herself."
In such a society, one wonders, who cannot help but be "crazed".
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Stay With It 18 Nov 2002
By JSollami - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book was the first I've read by Ha Jin. I tried Waiting but didn't give it a chance. Now I will.
There is never much said about a book's design, but this one merits high praise. Iris Weinstein, the designer, picked the typeface Cochin for the text, which is a "versatile face and looks well on any kind of paper." In addition, its "italic is delightful," say the notes at the back of the book, and indeed it is delightful. Italic is scattered throughout the text, as Prof. Yang, the dying, delusional teacher of Jian Wan, Ph.D. candidate and devoted student, is constantly quoting lyrics from various incongruent sources such as Red Brigade songs, children's propaganda ditties, and Dante, Goethe, and Tu Fu. The italic veritably dances on the page. And the text too is solid. Somehow I kept thinking about Kafka as I read this novel. Something about the design of the book, and Ha Jin's style of writing, and what he was writing about, the utter madness of Prof. Yang, the stifling conditions of China, and Jian Wan's constant attempts at trying to make sense of it all drew me back to Kafka's The Trial and The Castle. Indeed there are similarities between the two writers: being trapped in an absurd world of irrational authority, constantly trying to make sense of a hopeless bureauracy, outbursts of vicious violence, and feelings of deep hopelessness. But Ha Jin also is unique. He writes of a secret world we are just beginning to understand. And he draws us to the horror of Tiananmen Square. He writes of personal struggles with love and meaning, and how these "personal interests...motivate the individual and therefore generate the dynamics of history." That is what makes Ha Jin's work dynamic and true.
Warning: One must stay with this work, even though it is dominated by the rantings of the Professor and the puzzled, constant attempts of his student to understand what seems to be madness. All the threads are woven together, and in the end, you will be completely rewarded for your patience.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Multi-layered and subtle 12 Dec 2002
By Lynn Harnett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner award and the National Book Award for his novel, "Waiting," Ha Jin left his native China for the US in 1985 and is now a professor of English at Boston University. With this third novel, set in 1989, at the time of the Tiananmen Square upheavals, he again demonstrates his command of the English language and the nuances of human behavior. His prose is spare and compact and charged with the sense that anything might happen.
The book opens calmly, even placidly, as the narrator, graduate student Jian Wan, explains that his mentor, Professor Yang, has suffered a stroke. Yang has been helping him prepare for the Ph. D entrance exams for classical literature at Beijing University, the foundation of Jian's meticulously planned future. He will pass the exams and join his fiancée, Professor Yang's daughter Meimei, in the city, "where we planned to build our nest." He will become a teacher himself and spend his life in scholarly pursuits, a spiritual aristocrat, rich in heart, as his teacher has counseled. Now, as the closest thing to a family member available, Jian has been assigned to nurse Yang, which he is glad to do, though uneasy about the lost time. "I was anxious - without thorough preparation I couldn't possibly do well in the exams."
A sober, conventional, conscientious young man, Jian's settled outlook is soon disrupted by more than inadequate study time. The professor is suffering a kind of dementia that at first seems nonsensical. But as the days pass, Yang focuses on events which seem to come from his past. An intellectual, Yang was a "target of the struggle" during the Cultural Revolution. He had been denounced, humiliated, his books burned. Once he had told Jian that during difficult times he would quote Dante to himself. " `They could hurt me physically, but they could not subdue my soul.' " But now, his mind wandering, Yang's lofty sentiments have deserted him. One morning he belts out a rousing political rhyme. "His singing made my scalp itch as I remembered hearing Red Guards chant it in my hometown. By so doing, those big boys and girls had contributed their little share to the revolution; but that had been two decades before, and now the song was no more than an embarrassing joke." Additionally, Yang "would not have been entitled to sing such a progressive song together with the masses." How, Jian wonders, did he learn it?
Listening to his professor's ravings, Jian is unsure how much is real, how much made up. Yang bounces from oddly skewed parables to blissful descriptions of an adulterous affair. His moods swing from joy to savage recrimination. He makes bitter pronouncements on family and scholarly life, the political hypocrisy and expediency of communism and academic backbiting. He is sarcastic, angry, blubbering and regretful. Jian is often "shocked," sometimes repelled, but intrigued too. Could he have understood so little of his teacher's life? As he comprehends his professor's vast store of disappointment, he begins to question his own assumptions. Things have been kept from him - university maneuverings, petty jealousies and passions, a welter of unspoken thought. From Yang's dementia emerges a hopeless prospect, the uselessness of opposing political force; the shame of sacrificing personal integrity. Naturally this hopeless prospect dismays young Jian. He must act to prevent it.
Meanwhile the events at Tiananmen Square are building. Jian and his friends, far away, listen to the Voice of America, with mixed feelings. Meimei, in Beijing, never mentions the demonstrations, but exhorts Jian to study and concentrate on getting ahead. Jian, tossed one way and another, struggles to find his way through his doubts and the events conspiring against him. Eventually he goes to Beijing to take part in the demonstrations. And we all know how that turned out.
But rather than despair over the state's crushing fist, Jian's insight is personal. He did not go to Beijing for some great ideal, but to impress Meimei. Most revolutionaries, he reflects, joined the struggle to "escape an arranged marriage or to avoid debts or just to have enough food and clothes. It's personal interests that motivate the individual and therefore generate the dynamics of history."
Ha Jin's novels are multi-layered, deceptively simple stories with an undercurrent of tension and unease. The State looms over the individual with the powers of catastrophe and reward and the individual maneuvers within it as best he can. Though the bulk of "The Crazed" takes place in Yang's hospital room, Ha also takes us to Jian's Spartan dormitory quarters, meals with his friends and even a trip to the rural countryside, which contains more shocks for Jian. The struggles of daily life continually challenge the individual to small rebellions and betrayals, balanced against risk and integrity. Finally, Jian comes of age, a man less blinkered, but not without hope and plans for his future.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Witty approach to expose the post-Cultural Revolution China 16 Mar 2003
By Matthew M. Yau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The literature department at Shanning University came to a halt at the news of Professor Yang suffering from a sudden stroke in spring 1989. The professor has been a mainsay of the department: teaches a full load, directs the M.A. program and manages to publish more papers than other faculty members. University authority assigned literature graduate student Jian Wan, who also engaged to the professor's daughter Meimei, to attend the professor at the hospital.
Jian Wan was in the midst of his preparation for Ph.D qualifying exam. Little did he expect the caring of his father-in-law-to-be would open him up to a brand new perspective of life in new China. Jian at first did not make out of what the professor ranted about. As the professor developed some Alzheimer's-like syndrome and advised Jian to abandon his Ph.D exam, his study had inevitably taken a toll. In his "altered" state, the professor sternly dismissed a scholar career as some meaningless existence. This sort of remark deeply rooted in the Chinese Proletarian Cultural Revolution, where scholars were dubbed counter-revolutionary and marked for re-education. Professor Yang along with other scholars were purged and sent to village for "mind renewal". Jian was torn between the pursuit of real contentment and his love life. Dropout from Ph.D candidacy would mean losing Meimei, who studied medicine in Beijing and expected Jian's company as soon as he was admitted to Beijing University.
Professor Yang kept on raving about the Communist Party, pleading with some ghostly tormentors (probably the Red China Guards during Cultural Revolution), denouncing his family, criticizing a system in which a scholar was merely "just a piece of meat on a cutting board", "a screw in the machine of revolution." As his health deteriorated, the professor spewed up more shocking secret: an affair with one his graduate students whom he mentored. Whether or not the professor was telling the truth, Jian would have to make his own decision about living his life.
The novel is written with spare prose and extreme lucidity. What interests me the most is not the language but the layers of implications. Every single confession the professor makes represent the pain, the craziness, and the helplessness of post-Cultural Revolution China. Maybe this (the historical background) is what makes the book a strenuous read despite the simple language. The book connects the dot between the notorious Cultural Revolution (1956-1967) and the more recent Tienanmen massacre (1989). Professor Yang's anguish from the past (Cultural Revolution) and Jian's precarious dilemma (Tienanmen democracy walkout) only sneak a peek of the austere, oppressive life in China. 4.0 stars.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A mask is necessary for survival 20 Sep 2003
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This novel tells the story of a young intellectual - a man with a mission - who becomes the plaything of a malignant party bureaucrat.
It gives us an eminent impression of the influence of a political system on the day-to-day life of the main characters.
Old people were the victims of the Cultural Revolution and die in hatred. The young are manifesting on Tiananmen Square against the one party State for more freedom. But the 'crazed' remain in absolute power and play with the other 'crazed' (the men with a mission).
This book depicts China as 'a paradise for idiots', where 'love is a chameleon'. It is a really totalitarian State, but where personal interests are paramount.
The author remarks rightly: 'It's personal interests that motivate the individual and therefore generate the dynamics of history. Our history books on the Communist Revolution have always left out individual motives ... why they joined the Red Army or the Communist Party ... because they wanted to escape an arranged marriage or to avoid debts or just to have enough food and clothes.' (p. 320)
This novel is magnificently constructed. The reader discovers slowly the truth behind the actions, deliriums and whisperings.
A really great book written by an accomplished writer.
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