From Publishers Weekly
Jin, a Boston University professor and award-winning expatriate novelist (A Free Life), presents a brief meditation on writing in the "migrant" tradition ("including "exiles, emigrants, immigrants, and refugees") covering authors like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Nabokov and V. S. Naipaul. Though stiff and self-regarding, Jin has some interesting insight into these writers' process and reception; curiously, Jin considers several cases of writers working in their adopted language rather than their primary language, but doesn't discuss his own decision to work in English instead of Mandarin Chinese. Opinions range from sharp and negligibly inoffensive ("nostalgia is never a collective emotion") to blanket statements that hold little water ("other than slaking the writer's nostalgia, the writer's physical return to his native land has little meaning"). Though he warns up front that "my observations are merely that-my observations," Jin often seems to assert opinion as fact ("writers do not make good generals, and today literature is ineffective at social change"). Though he has some engaging points to make regarding the handful of (exclusively male) writers he considers, Jin's obtuse text is hardly welcoming, limiting its appeal to more serious students of world literature.
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“Though the issues are weighty, Jin’s prose is straightforward and welcoming. . . . In this poignant and provocative book, Jin takes us on this journey [to our envisioned homelands], revealing paths laid by migrant writers before him and perhaps by those who will follow.”
(Vanessa Hua San Francisco Chronicle
“Ha Jin is uniquely placed to address the responsibilities and challenges of the displaced writer. Offering both historical context and a strong personal vision of the migrant writer in America today, these essays are thought-provoking, often inspiring, and, above all, unfailingly interesting.”
“Jin’s book is lucid and original. No author of his stature has treated this subject in such an inclusive manner. Highly Recommended.”
“[The Writer As
Migrant] demands to be read slowly, and savored. You may find yourself pausing frequently to think about some especially trenchant observation and to reflect on the generosity and intelligence with which [Ha Jin] helps us understand what makes us different from, and similar to, the people with whom we co-exist on our endlessly fascinating, precious, and increasingly populated world.”
(Francine Prose Washington Post Book World
"Ha Jin questions the author's nostalgia for home and conjures up another dwelling place in the house of literature. . . . These essays offer a thoughtful and thought-provoking defence of the author's right to define his own reasons for writing and to fashion his own home."—Times Higher Education
(Times Higher Education
"[Jin] writes with admirations and delicacy about writers as diverse as V.S. Naipaul and W.G. Sebald. . . . Unsurprisingly, many of the books most valuable passages concern the craft of writing."
(Francine Prose New York Times Book Review
"Through this tangle of voluntary and forced migrations, Ha Jin offers the reader a string of glittering insights. For example, that exiles, like Tennyson's Ulysses, can confuse personal longing with collective need; . . . that nostalgia is never more than individual longing; that memory, when manipulated for even the best of reasons, can become a dangerous falsehood.—Alberto Manguel, Spectator
(Alberto Manguel Spectator
"The Writer as Migrant serves as an excellent primer into the migrant experience, and makes a good read for anyone who has lived 'elsewhere.'"
(Deji Olukotun World Literature Today