Despite a soft-spoken, easy-going demeanor, renowned author Ha Jin made a strong impact on the audience during Friday evening’s Neilly Series Lecture.

Jin was born in China and didn’t learn English until the age of 20. Despite both lingual and cultural barriers, Jin has become an influential American author.

Several introductory speakers served to recount some of the reasons Jin became an American author. Jin completed his graduate studies at Brandeis University and planned to return to China afterward. The historical Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which hundreds of student protestors were killed, prompted Jin to make the decision to remain in the United States.

In his own speech, Jin followed this same path of discourse, describing his feelings upon hearing the news of the massacre.

“For me, it was a big shock,” Jin said. “For a few weeks I couldn’t think clearly.”

Jin’s recounting of the trials that he faced in the United States quickly had the audience leaning forward in their seats, eager to hang on to his every word.

“I admire him due to his capacities,” freshman Timur Niroomand said. “He came here and he could barely speak English, yet he mastered our literature.”

And master American literature is just what Jin did. His first novel “Waiting” won the prestigious National Book Award, as well as the equally impressive PEN/Faulkner Award.

Similarly, Jin’s 2004 novel “War Trash” has captured the attention of the literary world. This fictional work is the story of a Chinese soldier held captive in a Korean prison during the Korean War. Jin pulled much of the content from his own personal experiences, many of which brought back frightening memories of the war.

Jin was a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army in 1969, where he served in a unit that scouted ahead of the regular army.

“Most of my comrades understood that we were there to be sacrificed,” Jin said. This fear of sacrifice never truly left Jin and was the driving force that led him to write this moving new book.

Although difficult to hear and understand at times, Jin continued to hold the rapturous attention of the audience as he described the freedom he experiences as an American author.

“A person of my background was not used to the condition of freedom,” Jin said. In China, he was reigned by the fear of a strict government. For this reason, he feels grateful to have the opportunity to explore the plethora of literature in America.

Despite the serious topics that were discussed during Jin’s speech, he was able to keep the atmosphere somewhat light with several humorous moments and frank statements. One thing that prompted Jin to write and publish were the examples set by his successful friends.

“If I published four or five books down the road, maybe I could get a job like theirs,” he said.

The question and answer session at the end of the lecture showed the interest Jin stirred within the audience. One listener even requested Jin to recite work from his published book of poetry. In response, Jin generously agreed to read excerpts from a novel he is currently working on, which tells the story of a struggling poet.

Three short pieces were offered by Jin.The first, “Homeland,” utilized strong emotional imagery to illicit a response from the audience. During the readings, there was a feeling of great respect and sympathy by the audience for the trials and tribulations Jin experienced upon his initial attempts to make a name for himself in America.

“I loved his first poem very much,” Renate Reimers, a woman attending the lecture upon a special invitation from UR President Joel Seligman, said. Like many others, Reimers empathized with Jin, as she too immigrated to the United States.

Once getting past the difficultly of hearing him, it was evident that Jin gave a solid performance. For those interested in reading Jin’s work, the library offers copies of both of his books.

Myers can be reached at

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