Ha Jin – A Good Fall: Stories (final installment)
I have finally finished this collection. If it sounds like an arduous task I undertook, well, yes, I suppose it was. These last stories – “A Pension Plan,” “Temporary Love,” “The House Behind a Weeping Cherry,” and “A Good Fall”- were far more interesting than the first stories, in that I felt like I was reading about real people in various degrees of extremis due to culture clash. But I can’t say I enjoyed them, exactly. Ha Jin’s writing is just not my style.
All four stories describe Chinese immigrants having serious problems with their American lives. In “A Pension Plan,” Jufen, a 58-year-old woman, in New York for ten years, works as a health care aide to Mr. Sheng. She’s happy with the job, in spite of the difficulties of caring for someone with multi-infarct dementia (she makes the distinction between MID and Alzheimer’s which is pretty sophisticated). But he starts making sexual advances towards her, and the situation escalates to the point where Mr. Sheng’s daughter asks Jufen if she has designs on her father. Despite Jufen’s protestations, the daughter takes it a step further and asks her to marry her father, which Jufen considers (a step I found fascinating) until a prenup is offered barring her from any inheritance. She is greatly offended, and quits the assignment. She asks her agency for a pension plan, which of course is not available, and is told she will have to learn English before she can work for an agency that does offer a pension plan. Bless her, Jufen decides that’s exactly what she’ll do. I found a lot of very interesting attitudes in this. But the writing, well, as I’ve said, it’s not my style.
“Temporary Love” introduces us to a “wartime couple” – two immigrants who are here alone, their spouses stil in China, in a sort of roommate-with-benefits situation. The woman’s husband is expected to arrive, so she ends the relationship, which the man has begun to take very seriously. Various complications ensue Again, it was a fascinating look into a particular culture with certain expectations.
“The House Behind a Weeping Cherry” is about a brothel where a group of women, smuggled in from China illegally, work to pay off their enormous debt. I’ve never seen anything about the sex xlave trade outside of a cop drama on TV. Why these particular women found it preferable to take this route than to stay in China is not examined, though, which disappointed me.
“A Good Fall” is another immigration mess, this time of a monk who finds himself without a work visa when he is fired from his job teaching Tai Chi at his temple because he is getting ill. It’s almost tragic throughout, but I’m glad this story, and thus the book, has a happy ending.
There’s so much anger in parts of this country about illegal immigrants. The people I’ve met in this book are not the stuff of anger; they are the stuff of the American dream, and somehow in most cases they got lost, tangled in red tape, or just have a hard time reconciling beliefs of their homeland and native culture with “the system” here. While I can’t say I liked the book, I’m glad I met these people, to see another point of view.