Authors: Ha Jin
In the Pond
“Fascinating, refreshing, and uncommonly subtle: Ha Jin has made China available to a new world and a world of new readers.”
“Ha Jin’s account of life in China reminds us both of the universality of human folly and of the immense, perverse pleasure to be found in its representation.
In the Pond
is more than a fun read, it is that great delight, a profoundly humorous book. As art confronts politics in memorably undignified fashion, we laugh while we wince, admiring between gasps the steady control of the writing.”
—Gish Jen, author of
“Ha Jin’s Dismount Fort teems with vivid life and people who grow ever less strange as the struggles unfold. An exotic subject matter helps, but narrative talent proves victorious.”
“Ha Jin’s first novel entirely fulfills the promise of his stunning stories—opening for the western reader a world that until now has been barely imaginable or imagined. Ha Jin’s sure prose, his deft characterization, his wit, and above all his compassion together tear down the global wall. A reader can only thank him.”
—James Carroll, author of
An American Requiem
In the Pond
is a superbly readable, funny and moving fable about the power of art to dispel dark forces within and without. Ha Jin’s rapidly flowering mastery of storytelling in English is one of the wonders of contemporary American literature.”
—Ralph Lombreglia, author of
Make Me Work
In the Pond
Ha Jin left his native China in 1985 to attend Brandeis University. He is the author of the internationally bestselling novel
, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award; the story collections
, which won the Asian American Literary Award and the Townsend Prize for Fiction,
Under the Red Flag
, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and
Ocean of Words
, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award; the novels
; and three books of poetry. He lives in the Boston area and is a professor of English at Boston University.
ALSO BY HA JIN
Under the Red Flag
Ocean of Words
FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, MAY 2000
Copyright © 1998 by Ha Jin
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Zoland Books, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1998.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
Vintage ISBN: 0-375-70911-8
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8041-5372-0
Alas, after all’s been said, I still can’t choose a virtuous man as my hero. I can explain why: the virtuous man has been turned into a sort of horse and there’s no author who hasn’t ridden him, urging him on with his whip or whatever comes to hand. Now I feel the time has come to make use of a rogue. So let’s harness him for a change!
HAO BIN FELT SICK
of Dismount Fort, a commune town where he had lived for over six years. His wife, Meilan, complained that she had to walk two miles to wash clothes on weekends. She couldn’t pedal, so Bin was supposed to take her on the carrier of his bicycle to the Blue Brook. But this month he worked weekends in the Harvest Fertilizer Plant and couldn’t help her. If only they had lived in Workers’ Park, the plant’s apartment compound, which was just hundreds of paces away from the waterside. These days Meilan prayed to Buddha at night, begging him to help her family get an apartment in the park soon.
“Don’t worry. We’ll have one this time,” Bin told her Wednesday afternoon.
“How can you be so sure?”
“They should give us one. I have more seniority than others.”
“That can’t be a guarantee.”
Indeed he had worked in the plant for six years. According to the principle of need and seniority, this time it seemed the Shaos should have a new apartment, but Meilan was not optimistic. “You know,” she said, “if I were you I’d give Secretary Liu and Director Ma two bottles of Grain Sap each. I heard that lots of people have visited them in the evenings. You shouldn’t just sit and wait.”
“Forget it. I won’t spend any money on them.”
“Stubborn ass,” she said under her breath.
Bin was a small man. He used to be healthy and stout, but in recent years he had lost so much weight that people called him Skeleton behind his back. Despite his physique, he was both talented and arrogant. He was better read than others in the plant, and he knew a lot of ancient stories, even the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. What is more, his handwriting was handsome. That was why some women workers used to say to one another, “If only the man was as good looking as his handwriting.” When he was engaged to Meilan five years before, people had been amazed and remarked, “A beauty loves a scholar indeed.” Although Meilan was not beautiful and Bin was not a true scholar, compared with him she was a better match, having several suitors.
Since they were married, they had lived in one room in a dormitory house on Old Folk Road, owned by Meilan’s work unit, the People’s Department Store. They
now had a lively two-year-old, for whom alone the room, twelve feet by twenty, was hardly enough. Besides, Bin was an amateur painter and calligrapher, though officially he was a fitter. As an artist, he needed space, ideally a room for himself, where he could cultivate and practice his art, but that had been impossible. Every night he stayed up late, wielding a writing brush with the table lamp on, which disturbed his wife’s and baby’s sleep. And the room was always saturated with an inky smell. Often Meilan had to open the windows in the cold winter, yet Bin had no other way to do brushwork. How the Shaos were longing for decent housing.
These days Bin had been trying in vain to find out whether or not his name was on the list being considered by the Housing Committee. Most of his fellow workers grew reticent and mysterious, as though all of a sudden everybody had struck gold; they became mean to others.
Now it’s my turn to have an apartment, Bin repeated to himself on Thursday morning, when he was repairing a hydraulic jack for the Transport Team. The night before, Meilan’s words about the workers’ bribing the leaders had sown some fear in him; yet he kept reminding himself not to lose heart.
Sooner than he expected, in the afternoon the final list was posted on the notice board at the plant’s front entrance. Bin went there but didn’t find his name among the lucky ones. He was outraged; so were many others. In all the workshops angry voices were rising while those
who had been assigned apartments turned silent at once. Some workers said they would put out big-character posters without delay, to expose the leaders’ corruption. A few declared they were going to demolish the four larger apartments built for the leaders, blowing them up with packages of TNT at night. But this was merely bluff; the same thing had been said many times before, and nothing of the sort had ever taken place here.
As soon as the electric bell announced the end of the shift, Bin left the plant. He was cycling home absently, an army cap askew on his head and his white shirt unbuttoned, its tail flapping gently behind him. His mind was full. How should he break the bad news to Meilan? She would be so disappointed. How could he console her?