From A Free Life by Ha Jin
Nominated by Valerie Mendenhall Cohen
Nan is the main character - "hero" would be quite the wrong word - of this brilliant novel about Chinese immigrants in America. Nan is the absolute antithesis of some personae mentioned in the "In Character" series (you know, gun-toting saviors, corporate bad-guys in good suits, well-groomed dogs, and so on).
Nan does not prevail over nasty people, nor does he perform brave deeds in dangerous situations. No, he simply puts his head down, day after day and year after year, with a patience that is in the end far braver than the startling acts of other "heroes."
This book does not have suspense or excitement. There is no climax, no denouement. There is, however, beautifully subtle use of the English language. This is probably the only book I have ever read that allowed me to understand what it takes, for any immigrant, from any country, to leave his birth-culture and to come here not to assimilate, not to succeed, but simply to endure.