Oh boy, did I like this book. It’s got that wonderful (and rare) balance of incredibly moving and funny. Ha Jin’s collection of short stories, The Bridegroom, portrays a contemporary China as the country struggles with the introduction of western ideas and capitalism. Ha Jin’s stories are tucked in neatly around the edges, nothing is left messy or muddled. The stories reflect the author’s restrained language (no run-on flourishing sentences here) and maintain distance from the emotions of the characters.
Each of these stories is strong and the whole collection is worth reading (twice). But I particularly loved the title story, “The Bridegroom”. An unattractive young woman marries the dream boat of the office. Told from the point of view of the young woman’s adoptive father, the young man is arrested and later sent to a sanitarium for being gay. The story doesn’t explode in scandal, the bride’s father is simply confused. Is homosexuality a disease? Can he be cured? What’s to be done? The story delicately handles the relationship between the bride and her groom and the bride’s father.
Also not to be missed: “Alive” is the story of Guhan, an older office worker who loses his memory after a devastating earthquake and in an effort to rebuild a life he remarries and adopts a boy only to remember his family later on.
And last, but certainly not least, “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town”. Cultures clash as the employees of Cowboy Chicken, a fast food chain, struggle to understand the capitalist dogma “the customer is always right,” and why on earth you would ever sue someone, Gastric hilarity ensues after the restaurant caters a wedding serving hefty helpings of cheesecake and ice cream to the lactose intolerant.
Occasionally you can hear the characters staining to keep their voices from cracking. But What I loved about these stories is that they are clear reflections of a modern China, as the people examine capitalist values with open curiosity. They’re just figuring it all out. Characters are open and honest and their authenticity makes their failures poignant. All the heartbreak is balanced with irony and wit.
I loved these stories, and plan to keep this collection on my shelf for a while.