cover image The Writer as Migrant

The Writer as Migrant

Ha Jin. University of Chicago Press, $14 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-226-39988-1

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.