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"Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu." Like a fairy tale, Ha Jin's masterful novel of love and politics begins with a formula--and like a fairy tale, Waiting uses its slight, deceptively simple framework to encompass a wide range of truths about the human heart. Lin Kong is a Chinese army doctor trapped in an arranged marriage that embarrasses and repels him. (Shuyu has country ways, a withered face, and most humiliating of all, bound feet.) Nevertheless, he's content with his tidy military life, at least until he falls in love with Manna, a nurse at his hospital. Regulations forbid an army officer to divorce without his wife's consent--until 18 years have passed, that is, after which he is free to marry again. So, year after year Lin asks his wife for his freedom, and year after year he returns from the provincial courthouse: still married, still unable to consummate his relationship with Manna. Nothing feeds love like obstacles placed in its way--right? But Jin's novel answers the question of what might have happened to Romeo and Juliet had their romance been stretched out for several decades. In the initial confusion of his chaste love affair, Lin longs for the peace and quiet of his "old rut." Then killing time becomes its own kind of rut, and in the end, he is forced to conclude that he "waited eighteen years just for the sake of waiting."
There's a political allegory here, of course, but it grows naturally from these characters' hearts. Neither Lin nor Manna is especially ideological, and the tumultuous events occurring around them go mostly unnoticed. They meet during a forced military march, and have their first tender moment during an opera about a naval battle. (While the audience shouts, "Down with Japanese Imperialism!" the couple holds hands and gazes dreamily into each other's eyes.) When Lin is in Goose Village one summer, a mutual acquaintance rapes Manna; years later, the rapist appears on a TV report titled "To Get Rich Is Glorious," after having made thousands in construction. Jin resists hammering ideological ironies like these home, but totalitarianism's effects on Lin are clear:
Let me tell you what really happened, the voice said. All those years you waited torpidly, like a sleepwalker, pulled and pushed about by others' opinions, by external pressure, by your illusions, by the official rules you internalized. You were misled by your own frustration and passivity, believing that what you were not allowed to have was what your heart was destined to embrace.Ha Jin himself served in the People's Liberation Army, and in fact left his native country for the U.S. only in 1985. That a non-native speaker can produce English of such translucence and power is truly remarkable--but really, his prose is the least of the miracles here. Improbably, Jin makes an unconsummated 18-year love affair loom as urgent as political terror or war, while history-changing events gain the immediacy of a domestic dilemma. Gracefully phrased, impeccably paced, Waiting is the kind of realist novel you thought was no longer being written. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Jin's quiet but absorbing second novel (after In the Pond) captures the poignant dilemma of an ordinary man who misses the best opportunities in his life simply by trying to do his duty—as defined first by his traditional Chinese parents and later by the Communist Party. Reflecting the changes in Chinese communism from the '60s to the '80s, the novel focuses on Lin Kong, a military doctor who agrees, as his mother is dying, to an arranged marriage. His bride, Shuyu, turns out to be a country woman who looks far older than her 26 years and who has, to Lin's great embarrassment, lotus (bound) feet. While Shuyu remains at Lin's family home in Goose Village, nursing first his mother and then his ailing father, and bearing Lin a daughter, Lin lives far away in an army hospital compound, visiting only once a year. Caught in a loveless marriage, Lin is attacted to a nurse, Manna Wu, an attachment forbidden by communist strictures. According to local Party rules, Lin cannot divorce his wife without her permission until they have been separated for 18 years. Although Jin infuses movement and some suspense into Lin's and Manna's sometimes resigned, sometimes impatient waiting—they will not consummate their relationship until Lin is free—it is only in the novel's third section, when Lin finally secures a divorce, that the story gathers real force. Though inaction is a risky subject and the thoughts of a cautious man make for a rather deliberate prose style (the first two sections describe the moments the characters choose not to act), the final chapters are moving and deeply ironic, proving again that this poet and award-winning short story writer can deliver powerful long fiction about a world alien to most Western readers. (Oct.) FYI: Jin served six years in the People's Liberation Army, and came to the U.S. in 1985.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Waiting" tells a story about a doctor, Lin Kong, who was well-read, decent, and kind-hearted, but had some serious short-comings that had caused misery and trouble for himself, his lover, and his family. He didn't love his wife Shuyu (an arranged marriage) because she was not attractive, and she couldn't read. As a result, he felt ashamed to let Shuyu visit him in the city where he worked. So for many years while this marriage continued, he only went home to visit his family in the village for 10 days a year. He had one daughter with Shuyu. And he never made love to her after their daughter was born. Shuyu, though illiterate, was a loyal and dependable wife. She took good care of Lin's parents until they passed away, and she brought up Lin's daughter all on her own (with Lin's salary he sent home). She always thought that Lin and her would be husband and wife for the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, Manna, a colleague of Lin, found him attractive and pursued him. He was happy to have woman who had education and who looked good, so he accepted Manna, and started a romantic relationship. However, due to the pressure of the society and the Party, he couldn't have an intimate relationship with Manna while he was still married to Shuyu. An official who was on friendly terms with Lin cautioned him not to get "physical" with Manna, or punishment would fall upon them (being kicked out of the Party and demobilized and sent to the countryside).
Manna loved Lin dearly (although she had her own agenda at times and had never trusted Lin in revealing her finance), and pressured Lin to divorce Shuyu so that the two of them could be together lawfully. However, Lin was not a brave or resolute man.Read more ›
Lin cannot get a divorce from his loveless, embarrassing (she has bound feet) arranged marriage without consent from his wife until 18 years have passed. He promises Manna that he will try, summer after summer when he goes home to his village, but he never succeeds. His repulsion for his wife increases, as does his secret ardor for Manna, but even early on the reader can sense that all is not what it appears to be, for rather than Manna Wu herself, Lin has fallen in love with the anticipatory, things-are-going-to-change nature of waiting. And also he loves the allure of what he cannot have, which seems to be the ironic political moral of Ha Jin's story.
Because of the beautiful descriptions and the capsule of Chinese life that is experienced through the novel, I definitely recommend _Waiting_. However, I think it would help to go into the book knowing that it is a parable rather than a romance. I know it would have helped me.
In the book, Lin Kong tried to divorce his peasant wife Shuyu unsuccessfully for 18 years. Some reviewers here argued that it's actually very easy to divorce a woman in China in the 50s or 60s. But I think they are missing the point. Of course, in the book other officers divorced their wives easily. Lin clearly didn't try hard enough, because he was ambivalent towards both women. He thought he had no love for Shuyu, but he's also not sure if he really wanted a marriage with Manna, his lover. He never thought hard about his relationships. So, the court's rejections were actually his excuses for inaction.
On another level, I can really identify with the characters in the story. My grandmother had bound feet, and she was a quiet, always obedient woman just like Shuyu. I also could understand Lin Kong's indecisiveness and apparent lack of emotions. He's an intellect, and it's considered superior in China to be a reserved man. But the writing is very touching and moving. These characters were just like us here, with real emotions like jealousy and fear, and their lives were plain, just like most of ours.
I definitely don't think the book was written to exaggerate the conditions during cultural revolution in China, or to be exotic as to appeal to a western audience. I have read many other books that were like that, where the characters endured unimaginable sufferings and then triumphed miraculously. In this book, life is strangely familiar and similar to what we have here. I enthusiastically recommend this book.
The protagonist, Lin Kong, is in a traditionally arranged marriage with a woman whom Lin finds unsatisfactory even before the marriage, though his dissatisfaction with her lies almost entirely on her physical appearances. As a doctor and soldier, Lin lives in the city where he is stationed, and returns to his rural country home annually. Lin inadvertently complicates by falling in love with an attractive nurse, who also is a soldier working at the same hospital. During the course of twenty years, Lin repeatedly requests a divorce, something traditionally frowned upon, and virtually impossible to obtain via the communist regime. Thus, the story revolves around the doctor's dilemma and the two women who inextricably complicate his entire adult life.
Waiting is a love story that seems to be at the mercy of a fickle, communist regime, where trends are determined by current political interpretation and thought. Love is put on hold, sacrificed for the greater good of the State; there to stagnate, as opposed to being nurtured naturally through intimacy, trust and affection. Among the many subtle messages in this novel, Ha Jin shows us that emotions, including and perhaps especially, love, cannot be regulated as one would try to regulate and control the economy. There are forces in nature more powerful than any dictatorial force thus discovered.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
It is post revolutionary China, and Lin Kong is a doctor in the Chinese Army. Years earlier his parents arranged a marriage for him to peasant woman Shuyu. Read morePublished on Dec 21 2010 by Heather Pearson
well...i'm from mexico and i read this book and i just wanna tell you "it's great", it kept me readin' and readin' is a great and different history and a love novel where... Read morePublished on May 27 2004 by mike garcia
Like Miso soup, subtle but fulfilling. Ha Jin keeps you waiting, playing on your patience for what you hope will be a closure at the end of the novel. Of course that never comes. Read morePublished on April 23 2004 by A. Davis
Ha Jin's novel is a perfect allegory for the living conditions in communist China. Like arranged marriages, arranged lives kept people waiting for something to happen. Read morePublished on March 27 2004 by Luc REYNAERT
Story of a man torn between his arranged marriage wife who has been devoted to him and his lover who he is in love with. Read morePublished on Feb. 17 2004 by John I. Provan
Its one of those books that I wasn't going to finish, it was so boring. If the character had been a little more interesting, the story might have been more endearing, but how... Read morePublished on Feb. 13 2004
This is 300 pages of nothing going on. Waiting is a great title. You wait and wait for anything of interest and then you run out of pages.Published on Jan. 19 2004
This is a wonderful story. There are several currents in this story. Not the least of which is: how much of love stems from expectation, rather than true emotion? Read morePublished on Nov. 6 2003 by Alicia Walker
This novel takes place in China during the Cultural Revolution and afterwards, but it is a social, not a political novel. Read morePublished on Oct. 19 2003 by algo41