cover image A Song Everlasting

A Song Everlasting

Ha Jin. Pantheon, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4879-1

At the onset of the uninspired latest from Jin (The Boat Rocker), set in the early 2010s, singer Yao Tian stays behind in the U.S. for a few extra days after his state-sponsored choir’s tour ends. When his employer asks him to turn over his passport as punishment, Tian instead returns to the U.S. and settles in New York City, leaving behind his wife and teenage daughter. Now free to make his own decisions, Tian performs occasionally, sending what funds he can to his family, but after the Chinese media spreads the story of a violent altercation between Tian and his manager, his reputation is tarnished. He relocates to Boston and works for a cousin on home renovation jobs, all the while clinging to his dream of restarting his singing career, but the Chinese government cancels his passport, stranding him in the U.S. with few prospects. Jin has a knack for seamlessly compressing large swaths of time, yet Tian remains something of a mystery, with little effort made to explore his singing abilities. And though the author shuttles his protagonist through a series of trials over many years, Tian’s unfailing ability to overcome setbacks lessens the novel’s dramatic pull. As far as itinerant heroes’ quests for freedom go, this one doesn’t get the heart racing. (July)