The Taser's Edge

Ocean of Words by Ha Jin

One of the best books that I’ve read in the last several years was Waiting by Ha Jin.  Something about the way that he writes has that beautiful quality I also admire in Sarah Orne Jewett or Wallace Stegner: stillness, silence, peace.  I think part of the reason I like those things in fiction is hereditary.  My mom introduced me to Jewett in high school or undergrad with a beautiful edition of Country of the Pointed Firs, which is prefaced by a collection of black and white images of coastal Maine.  Several years later she recommended Waiting (which we had both recently and separately picked up in thrift stores), while I introduced her to Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, still possibly my favorite novel, sometime in high school.

 This morning I finished reading Ocean of Words by Ha Jin.  It’s his first published book of non-poetry, from 1996, a collection of short stories about Chinese army life on the border with Russia in some tense years of the early 1970s.  I have long known that the majority of my knowledge of history (and plenty of other topics) comes from reading fiction, and it’s been proven once again by the fact that I had no idea that Russia and China were at the edge of war in 1970.  This certainly puts Nixon’s visit to China in a different light.  (The fact that we have traded with China and overlooked its human rights violations for decades begins to make sense, when trading with China is part of war with the USSR.)

 As regards Ocean of Words and history, I would guess that there is a lot of history to be derived, as the author actually served in the People’s Liberation Army of China for six years, beginning in 1969, and coming to the US in 1985.  Checking out his Wikipedia entry makes me realize how much of his work I have yet to read.

My hope now would be for a ridiculously good director to make a movie out of this book.  Too bad Altman’s dead.  Just to see, I did check out imdb for Ha Jin, and there is a movie version of Waiting being made (starring Ziyi Zhang!).

p.s. I added a new tab to the top of the page so you can see what I’m reading and recommending.