Ha Jin Ocean of Words
Born in 1956, Jin is a Chinese-American poet and short story writer.
Jin was raised in China during the Cultural Revolution and immigrated to the United States in 1985. He chose to write in English, despite the challenges this presented to him, since "it would be impossible for him to write honestly in China," Jocelyn Lieu has reported. The author of two collections of poetry (Between Silences, 1990, and Facing Shadows, 1996), Jin gained critical attention, and the 1997 Hemingway/PEN Award for First Fiction, with his short story collection, Ocean of Words (1996). Set on the forbidding Chinese-Russian border in the early 1970s, the stories in Ocean of Words focus on longing, loss, betrayal, and rivalry. Jin has observed about his own writing: "As for the subject matter, I guess we are compelled to write about what has hurt us most." In "Dragon Head," widely considered the best piece in Ocean of Words, an elderly iconoclastic veteran recounts a battle of wits between an army officer and a local militia commander involving betrayal, political machinations, and the truth about Mao Tse-tung's regime. Jin's fictional world also incorporates humor and irony into its Maoist milieu. "Miss Jee" centers on a less-than-sturdy soldier targeted by his joking comrades, while "Too Late" comically portrays a political instructor who interferes in a love affair between a young soldier and an orphaned girl. Jin has recently released a second collection of stories, Under the Red Flag (1998), which won the 1997 Flannery O'Connor Award; a third book, In the Pond, is due out in 1998. Overall, reception of Jin's work has been positive. Andy Solomon determined that Jin's stories are "powerful in their unity of theme and rich in their diversity of styles." Lieu expressed admiration for Jin's "laconic, luminous prose" in Ocean of Words, which she designates "a nearly flawless treasure." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Jin's characters make hard choices that will move not just readers interested in China or the army life, but any reader vulnerable to good writing and simple human drama."