A Life in Books: Ha Jin

Winner of the National Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Jin is known for spare and elegant stories about Chinese culture. His latest novel, " A Free Life, " is an epic tale of immigrants in America. His picks:

My Five Most Important Books

1. "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. It helped me structure my novel "Waiting," opening it to both the city and the countryside.

2. "The House of the Dead" by Fyodor Dostoevsky. A fictionalized memoir, it taught me how to describe prison life in my novel "War Trash."

3. "Pnin" by Vladimir Nabokov. It showed me how the distortion and misuse of English could create a style that reflects the struggle of immigrants.

4. "A Bend in the River" by V. S. Naipaul. The book changed my understanding of the world, especially my attitude toward the past.

5. "The Emigrants" by W. G. Sebald. Blurs the boundary between fiction and nonfiction but also teaches the wisdom of survival.

A classic book that you revisited with disappointment: Nabokov's "Pale Fire." Forced myself to reread it, and I still don't think the novel's poetry works compared with the prose.

A classic book that you haven't read: Nabokov's "Ada," partly because several friends have started it but never finished it. I will dip in soon.