The Crazed by Ha Jin introduces college professor, Mr Yang, as he suffers a stroke. Meimei, his daughter, is engaged to one of his students - Jian Wan whom, at the risk of failing his exams is obliged to take care of his teacher and future father in law. Mr Yangs stroke was not as serious as it could have been so the task seemed a relatively easy one but he changed and deliriously began to rant and rave about Chinas political past as well as his own.
The whole story is told exclusively through the eyes of Jian Wan but it is done so well. He was a graduate who was highly respected by his teacher but it really was perceptive to be told in this way. Mr Yang himself appears to be one of The Crazed as the book may suggest but Jian reveals this not to be the whole truth noting certain exceptions. Mr Yang tells of his past life to just before his stoke, revealing details that should never have been exposed. As it is told through the first person we as the reader discover shocking moments which leads Jian to question his future from details of Mr Yangs past.
It really was hard not to feel the heart wrenching pain Jian seemed to face throughout the book and each of his emotions were well explained. Hes a very sensitive character and at a time of so much stress over exams, which would ultimately path his future, he is faced with so much more pressure from every side looking after his teacher, his relationship with his future wife, friends and other college professors. This then leads onto the more political pressures that link back to the pressures Mr Yang had endured through his life. Meimei, Mr Yangs daughter, doesnt largely feature in the novel but letters are passed between herself and Jian keeping everyone updated on the political situation in Beijing. She can be quite deceptive but still is seemingly a strong person and becomes Jians strength. She doesnt understand her fiancé unlike her mother who knows her husbands past.
Mr Yang as a stroke victim is very convincing. The descriptions of his actions, at first seemingly problem free and suddenly changing are very descriptive and very real. But Mr Yangs condition doesnt really focus on his sane self but the second life he seems to lead through his delirium. His condition changes from a childlike state back to his intellectual self in an instant but also to someone appearing to be out of their mind. As Jian tells the story we only find out pieces of a story and Jian tries to fit them together. The book did focus on the daily task of looking after a stoke victim though including the maltreatment from hospital staff through lack of care.
The novel began in more of a political way but gradually seemed to wear down to a much more personal tale continually alternating between visiting Mr Yang in hospital and Jians life away from him. This keeps the book fast flowing and with many unexpected twists and containing a lot of deception and blackmailing to keep the reader engaged. Many of the characters may have appeared to be on one side but were really fighting for another cause. The exact same can be said for Jian. His life seems to parallel Mr Yangs life and in his attempts to retreat and get away from that life comes full circle and ends up in the same situation.
I only have a few criticisms to make: one was the sheer luck the character seemed to have as he sat by his teachers bedside. Jian always seems to be around when Mr Yang had something to say and because of this either gets answers he had previously wanted to know or would open up other questions to be answered later. Considering the character was not around the whole time it did make it a little less likely this would actually happen. The second criticism was the numerous poetry and song references. To me some of the chapters tended to be dragged out through continual mention but did fit with the subject. In these cases it is Mr Yang reciting them while in hospital just as irritating as being stuck there myself.
The novel is one of fiction but mentions very real events and people important in Chinas past. The book was written at the time of the demonstrations and massacres at Tiananmen Square in the late 80s and details some horrific incidents as Jian experiences them. In the same way Mr Yang raves about his time during the Cultural Revolution and the suffering he endured under leadership of Chairman Mao.
I didnt think this would be a book I would enjoy but surprisingly I found it very enthralling. There were a few chapters that would drift with continual poetry mentions or songs but with several subplots and short chapters kept the book moving at a fast pace. I was very surprised by the end of the novel as it just seemed the opposite to how it began and it was extremely easy to sympathise with Jian. Ha Jin has done extremely well with this novel and I was disappointed that it had to end. It was serious, emotional and surprising to see how the characters developed and the paths they took towards the end. I even learned a few things along the way about China and Chinese life. Highly recommended!
Price: £5.59 (Amazon UK)
Professor Yang, a respected teacher of literature, has had a stroke and it falls to Jian Wan - who is also engaged to Yang's daughter - to care for him. It initially seems a simple duty until the professor begins to rave, pleading with invisible tormentors and denouncing his family...Are these just manifestations of illness, or is Yang spewing up the truth? In a China convulsed by the Tiananmen uprising, those who listen to the truth are as much at risk as those who speak it. Lyrical and heart-breaking, The Crazed is an incisive portrait of modern Chinese society.