The 2021 Winner

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A Free Life

Chinese Nan with his wife Pingping and his son Taotao begins a new free life in the United States after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Nan constatnly contends with his internal conflicts and struggles with determining his cultural identity and personal priorities as he strives to survive in a new country.

About the Author

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Ha Jin

    Ha Jin is known among currently active authors for coming the closest to winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Liaoning, China in 1956, Ha moved to the US in 1985, where he received a PhD in English literature from Brandeis University. After coming across the Tiananmen Square incident in the US in 1989, he decided to stay in the US and write in English. His 1999 novel Waiting caused a sensation in US literary circles, winning a National Book Award that year and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2000, as well as a spot on the list of Pulitzer Prize finalists. His 2004 novel War Trash, which is set during the Korean War, once again earned a PEN/Faulkner Award and a nomination as a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Ha is currently working as a professor of creative writing in the English Literature Department at Boston University.

Korean translation

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Eun-Chull WANG

    In the Heart of the Country and Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee, A Good Fall and War Trash by Ha Jin, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. His own writings include The Dialogic Fiction of J. M. Coetzee, Literary Masters, and Ode to Mourning.

Note from Judging Committee

Ha Jin’s Free Life is a work that encompasses both the tragedy and the vitality of ‘Diaspora’. The characters in the novel are disrupted and disconnected from their homeland since the Tiananmen Square massacre. They were not deported but made the choice not to return to their homeland. Life as immigrants under harsh conditions is a process for them to internalize their identity as free persons. During the process they disassemble and reconstruct their cells and neurons in the manner that strengthens their free will. Phrases and dialogues throughout the book are concrete and thoughtfully put, introducing the readers to feel as if they are inside of everyday life of immigrant society. Being inside of the fiction the readers are met with the most vivid reality. This is the very essence of Ha Jin's unparalleled level of literary work.