Waiting

Waiting

by Ha Jin

Paperback

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Overview

"In Waiting, Ha Jin portrays the life of Lin Kong, a dedicated doctor torn by his love for two women: one who belongs to the New China of the Cultural Revolution, the other to the ancient traditions of his family's village. Ha Jin profoundly understands the conflict between the individual and society, between the timeless universality of the human heart and constantly shifting politics of the moment. With wisdom, restraint, and empathy for all his characters, he vividly reveals the complexities and subtleties of a world and a people we desperately need to know."—Judges' Citation, National Book Award

"Ha Jin's novel could hardly be less theatrical, yet we're immediately engaged by its narrative structure, by its wry humor and by the subtle, startling shifts it produces in our understanding of characters and their situation."—The New York Times Book Review

"Subtle and complex—his best work to date. A moving meditation on the effects of time upon love."—The Washington Post

"A high achievement indeed."—Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books

"A portrait of Chinese provincial life that terrifies with its emptiness even more than with its all-pervasive vulgarity. The poet in [Jin] intersperses these human scenes with achingly beautiful vignettes of natural beauty."—Los Angeles Times

"A simple love story that transcends cultural barriers—. From the idyllic countryside to the small towns in northeast China, Jin's depictions are filled with an earthy poetic grace—. Jin's account of daily life in China is convincing and rich in detail."—The Chicago Tribune

"Compassionate, earthy, robust, and wise, Waiting blends provocative allegory with all-too-human comedy. The result touches and reveals, bringing to life a singular world in its spectacular intricacy."—Gish Jen, author of Who's Irish?

"A remarkable love story. Ha Jin's understanding of the human heart and the human condition transcends borders and time. Waiting is an outstanding literary achievement."—Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375706417
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2000
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 248,118
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Ha Jin left his native China in 1985 to attend Brandeis University. He is the author of the internationally bestselling novel Waiting, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award, and War Trash, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize; the story collections The Bridegroom, which won the Asian American Literary Award, Under the Red Flag, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Ocean of Words, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award; the novels The Crazed and In the Pond; and three books of poetry. His latest novel, A Free Life is his first novel set in the United States. He lives in the Boston area and is a professor of English at Boston University.

 

War Trash, The Crazed, The Bridegroom, Waiting, In the Pond, and Ocean of Words are available in paperback from Vintage Books.

Hometown:

Boston, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

February 21, 1956

Place of Birth:

Liaoning, China

Education:

B.A. in English, Heilongjiang University, 1981; Ph. D. in English, Brandeis University, 1993

Read an Excerpt

Lin Kong graduated from the military medical school toward the end of 1963 and came to Muji to work as a doctor. At that time the hospital ran a small nursing school, which offered a sixteen-month program and produced nurses for the army in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. When Manna Wu enrolled as a student in the fall of 1964, Lin was teaching a course in anatomy. She was an energetic young woman at the time, playing volleyball on the hospital team. Unlike most of her classmates who were recent middle- or high-school graduates, she had already served three years as a telephone operator in a coastal division and was older than most of them. Since over 95 percent of the students in the nursing school were female, many young officers from the units stationed in Muji City would frequent the hospital on weekends.

Most of the officers wanted to find a girlfriend or a fiancée among the students, although these young women were still soldiers and were not allowed to have a boyfriend. There was a secret reason for the men's interest in the female students, a reason few of them would articulate but one which they all knew in their hearts, namely that these were "good girls." That phrase meant these women were virgins; otherwise they could not have joined the army, since every young woman recruited had to go through a physical exam that eliminated those with a broken hymen.

One Sunday afternoon in the summer, Manna was washing clothes alone in the dormitory washroom. In came a bareheaded lieutenant of slender build and medium height, his face marked with a few freckles. His collar was unbuckled and the top buttons on his jacket were undone, displaying his prominent Adam's apple. He stood beside her, lifted his foot up, and placed it into the long terrazzo sink. The tap water splashed on his black plastic sandal and spread like a silvery fan. Done with the left foot, he put in his right. To Manna's amusement, he bathed his feet again and again. His breath stank of alcohol.

He turned and gave her a toothy grin, and she smiled back. Gradually they entered into conversation. He said he was the head of a radio station at the headquarters of the Muji Sub-Command and a friend of Instructor Peng. His hands shook a little as he talked. He asked where she came from; she told him her hometown was in Shandong Province, withholding the fact that she had grown up as an orphan without a hometown — her parents had died in a traffic accident in Tibet when she was three.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Manna Wu."

"I'm Mai Dong, from Shanghai."

A lull set in. She felt her face flushing a little, so she returned to washing her clothes. But he seemed eager to go on talking.

"Glad to meet you, Comrade Manna Wu," he said abruptly and stretched out his hand.

She waved to show the soapsuds on her palms. "Sorry," she said with a pixieish smile.

"By the way, how do you like Muji?" he asked, rubbing his wet hands on his flanks.

"It's all right."

"Really? Even the weather here?"

"Yes."

"Not too cold in winter?" Before she could answer, he went on, "Of course, summer's fine. How about — "

"Why did you bathe your feet eight or nine times?" She giggled.

"Oh, did I?" He seemed bewildered, looking down at his feet.

"Nice sandals," she said.

"My cousin sent them from Shanghai. By the way, how old are you?" He grinned.

Surprised by the question, she looked at him for a moment and then turned away, reddening.

He smiled rather naturally. "I mean, do you have a boyfriend?"

Again she was taken aback. Before she could decide how to answer, a woman student walked in with a bucket to fetch water, so their conversation had to end.

A week later she received a letter from Mai Dong. He apologized profusely for disturbing her in the washroom and for his untidy appearance, which wasn't suitable for an officer. He had asked her so many embarrassing questions, she must have taken him for an idiot. But he had not been himself that day. He begged her to forgive him. She wrote back, saying she had not been offended, instead very much amused. She appreciated his candor and natural manners.

Both of them were in their mid-twenties and had never taken a lover. Soon they began to write each other a few times a week. Within two months they started their rendezvous on weekends at movie theaters, parks, and the riverbank. Mai Dong hated Muji, which was a city with a population of about a quarter of a million. He dreaded its severe winters and the north winds that came from Siberia with clouds of snow dust. The smog, which always curtained the sky when the weather was cold, aggravated his chronic sore throat. His work, transcribing and transmitting telegrams, impaired his eyesight. He was unhappy and complained a great deal.

Manna tried to comfort him with kind words. By nature he was weak and gentle. Sometimes she felt he was like a small boy who needed the care of an elder sister or a mother.

One Saturday afternoon in the fall, they met in Victory Park. Under a weeping willow on the bank of a lake, they sat together watching a group of children on the other shore flying a large kite, which was a paper centipede crawling up and down in the air. To their right, about a hundred feet away, a donkey was tethered to a tree, now and then whisking its tail. Its master was lying on the grass and taking a nap, a green cap over his face so that flies might not bother him. Maple seeds floated down, revolving in the breeze. Furtively Mai Dong stretched out his hand, held Manna's shoulder, and pulled her closer so as to kiss her lips.

"What are you doing?" she cried, leaping to her feet. Her abrupt movement scared away the mallards and geese in the water. She didn't understand his intention and thought he had attempted something indecent, like a hoodlum. She didn't remember ever being kissed by anyone.

He looked puzzled, then muttered, "I didn't mean to make you angry like this."

"Don't ever do that again."

"All right, I won't." He turned away from her and looked piqued, spitting on the grass.

From then on, though she didn't reproach him again, she resisted his advances resolutely, her sense of virtue and honor preventing her from succumbing to his desire. Her resistance kindled his passion. Soon he told her that he couldn't help thinking of her all the time, as though she had become his shadow. Sometimes at night, he would walk alone in the compound of the Sub-Command headquarters for hours, with his 1951 pistol stuck in his belt. Heaven knew how he missed her and how many nights he remained awake tossing and turning while thinking about her. Out of desperation, he proposed to her two months before her graduation. He wanted to marry her without delay.

She thought he must have lost his mind, though by now she also couldn't help thinking of him for an hour or two every night. Her head ached in the morning, her grades were suffering, and she was often angry with herself. She would lose her temper with others for no apparent reason. When nobody was around, tears often came to her eyes. For all their love, an immediate marriage would be impracticable, out of the question. She was uncertain where she would be sent when she graduated, probably to a remote army unit, which could be anywhere in Manchuria or Inner Mongolia. Besides, a marriage at this moment would suggest that she was having a love affair; this would invite punishment, the lightest of which the school would administer was to keep the couple as separate as possible. In recent years the leaders had assigned some lovers to different places deliberately.

She revealed Mai Dong's proposal to nobody except her teacher Lin Kong, who was known as a good-hearted married man and was regarded by many students as a kind of elder brother. In such a situation she needed an objective opinion. Lin agreed that a marriage at this moment was unwise, and that they had better wait a while until her graduation and then decide what to do. He promised he would let nobody know of the relationship. In addition, he said he would try to help her in the job assignment if he was involved in making the decision.

She reasoned Mai Dong out of the idea of an immediate marriage and assured him that she would become his wife sooner or later. As graduation approached, they both grew restless, hoping she would remain in Muji City. He was depressed, and his despondency made her love him more.

At the graduation she was assigned to stay in the hospital and work in its Medical Department as a nurse — a junior officer of the twenty-fourth rank. The good news, however, didn't please Mai Dong and Manna for long, because a week later he was informed that his radio station was going to be transferred to a newly formed regiment in Fuyuan County, almost eighty miles northeast of Muji and very close to the Russian border.

"Don't panic," she told him. "Work and study hard on the front. I'll wait for you."

Though also heartbroken, she felt he was a rather pathetic man. She wished he were stronger, a man she could rely on in times of adversity, because life always had unexpected misfortunes.

"When will we get married?" he asked.

"Soon, I promise."

Despite saying that, she was unsure whether he would be able to come back to Muji. She preferred to wait a while.

The nearer the time for departure drew, the more embittered Mai Dong became. A few times he mentioned he would rather be demobilized and return to Shanghai, but she dissuaded him from considering that. A discharge might send him to a place far away, such as an oil field or a construction corps building railroads in the interior of China. It was better for them to stay as close as possible.

When she saw him off at the front entrance of the Sub-Command headquarters, she had to keep blowing on her fingers, having forgotten to bring along her mittens. She wouldn't take the fur gloves he offered her; she said he would need them more. He stood at the back door of the radio van, whose green body had turned gray with encrusted ice and snow. The radio antenna atop the van was tilting in the wind, which, with a shrill whistle, again and again tried to snatch it up and bear it off. More snow was falling, and the air was piercingly cold. Mai Dong's breath hung around his face as he shouted orders to his soldiers in the van, who gathered at the window, eager to see what Manna looked like. Outside the van, a man loaded into a side trunk some large wooden blocks needed for climbing the slippery mountain roads. The driver kicked the rear wheels to see whether the tire chains were securely fastened. His fur hat was completely white, a nest of snowflakes.

As the van drew away, Mai Dong waved good-bye to Manna, his hand stretching through the back window, as though struggling to pull her along. He wanted to cry, "Wait for me, Manna!" but he dared not get that out in the presence of his men. Seeing his face contort with pain, Manna's eyes blurred with tears. She bit her lips so as not to cry.

Winter in Muji was long. Snow wouldn't disappear until early May. In mid-April when the Songhua River began to break up, people would gather at the bank watching the large blocks of ice cracking and drifting in the blackish-green water. Teenage boys, baskets in hand, would tread and hop on the floating ice, picking up pike, whitefish, carp, baby sturgeon, and catfish killed by the ice blocks that had been washed down by spring torrents. Steamboats, still in the docks, blew their horns time and again. When the main channel was finally clear of ice, they crept out, sailing slowly up and down the river and saluting the spectators with long blasts. Children would hail and wave at them.

Then spring descended all of a sudden. Aspen catkins flew in the air, so thick that when walking on the streets you could breathe them in and you would flick your hand to keep them away from your face. The scent of lilac blooms was pungent and intoxicating. Yet old people still wrapped themselves in fur or cotton-padded clothes. The dark earth, vast and loamy, marked by tufts of yellow grass here and there, began emitting a warm vapor that flickered like purple smoke in the sunshine. All at once apricot and peach trees broke into blossoms, which grew puffy as bees kept touching them. Within two weeks the summer started. Spring was so short here that people would say Muji had only three seasons.

In her letters to Mai Dong, Manna described these seasonal changes as though he had never lived in the city. As always, he complained in his letters about life at the front. Many soldiers there suffered from night blindness because they hadn't eaten enough vegetables. They all had lice in their underclothes since they couldn't take baths in their barracks. For the whole winter and spring he had seen only two movies. He had lost fourteen pounds, he was like a skeleton now. To comfort him, each month Manna mailed him a small bag of peanut brittle.

One evening in June, Manna and two other nurses were about to set out for the volleyball court behind the medical building. Benping, the soldier in charge of mail and newspapers, came and handed her a letter. Seeing it was from Mai Dong, her teammates teased her, saying, "Aha, a love letter."

She opened the envelope and was shocked while reading through the two pages. Mai Dong told her that he couldn't stand the life on the border any longer and had applied for a discharge, which had been granted. He was going back to Shanghai, where the weather was milder and the food better. More heartrending, he had decided to marry his cousin, who was a salesgirl at a department store in Shanghai. Without such a marriage, he wouldn't be able to obtain a residence card, which was absolutely necessary for him to live and find employment in the metropolis. In reality he and the girl had been engaged even before he had applied for his discharge; otherwise he wouldn't have been allowed to go to Shanghai, since he was not from the city proper but from one of its suburban counties. He was sorry for Manna and asked her to hate and forget him.

Her initial response was long silence.

"Are you okay?" Nurse Shen asked.

Manna nodded and said nothing. Then the three of them set out for the game.
On the volleyball court Manna, usually an indifferent player, struck the ball with such ferocity that for the first time her comrades shouted "Bravo" for her. Her face was smeared with sweat and tears. As she dove to save a ball, she fell flat on the graveled court and scraped her right elbow. The spectators applauded the diving save while she slowly picked herself up and found blood oozing from her skin.

During the break her teammates told her to go to the clinic and have the injury dressed, so she left, planning to return for the second game. But on her way, she changed her mind and ran back to the dormitory. She merely washed her elbow with cold water and didn't bandage it.

Once alone in the bedroom, she read the letter again and tears gushed from her eyes. She flung the pages down on the desk and fell on her bed, sobbing, twisting, and biting the pillowcase. A mosquito buzzed above her head, then settled on her neck, but she didn't bother to slap it. She felt as if her heart had been pierced.

When her three roommates came back at nine, she was still in tears. They picked up the letter and glanced through it; together they tried to console her by condemning the heartless man. But their words made her sob harder and even convulsively. That night she didn't wash her face or brush her teeth. She slept with her clothes on, waking now and then and weeping quietly while her roommates wheezed or smacked their lips or murmured something in their sleep. She simply couldn't stop her tears.

She was ill for a few weeks. She felt aged, in deep lassitude and numb despair, and regretted not marrying Mai Dong before he left for the front. Her limbs were weary, as though separated from herself. Despite her comrades' protests, she dropped out of the volleyball team, saying she was too sick to play. She spent more time alone, as though all at once she belonged to an older generation; she cared less about her looks and clothes.

By now she was almost twenty-six, on the verge of becoming an old maid, whose standard age was twenty-seven to most people's minds. The hospital had three old maids; Manna seemed destined to join them.

She wasn't very attractive, but she was slim and tall and looked natural; besides, she had a pleasant voice. In normal circumstances she wouldn't have had difficulty in finding a boyfriend, but the hospital always kept over a hundred women nurses, most of whom were around twenty, healthy and normal, so young officers could easily find girlfriends among them. As a result, few men were interested in Manna. Only an enlisted soldier paid her some attentions. He was a cook, a squat man from Szechwan Province, and he would dole out to her a larger portion of a dish when she bought her meal. But she did not want an enlisted soldier as a boyfriend, which would have violated the rule that only officers could have a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Besides, that man looked awful — owlish and cunning. So she avoided standing in any line leading to his window.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Ha Jin's National Book Award-winning novel Waiting.

1. 18. Ha Jin has not returned to China since he left in 1985; in 1990, he made a commitment to write and speak solely in English. Speaking of that decision, he says, "There was a lot of fear. It's like changing your body, to write in a different language. And it wasn't just a matter of finding an audience, it was a matter of survival—I have a family to support. Finally I decided to write in English, absolutely uncertain of whether I could do it. I'm still uncertain! In the end, though, every project is a risk, not just the language. And that's true for every writer."** How would you characterize the style in which this novel is written? If you have read the work of Vladimir Nabokov or Joseph Conrad, two other emigré writers who adopted English as their literary language, how would you compare Ha Jin's use of the language?

*Atlanta Journal, 15 Nov 1999, E

2. 1.

**From "A conversation with Ha Jin," by Mary Park, amazon.com

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Waiting 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
sarafenix More than 1 year ago
When I read this it was one of the books that had the most impact on me. With its subtly, it sneaks up on you with its strong depiction of human relationships and desires.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing piece of fiction about a 'bitter love.' Having read other reviews, I would have to say that I did not interpret the ending in such a hopeful manner, but I guess it all depend on your perspective. The characters are all very well developed, especially Lin, whose desire to do the right thing often leads to many unfortunate outcomes. Truly a beautiful story.
tamesthetic More than 1 year ago
This is a really great story about what the passage of time can do to things. How it erodes and eats away at the value of things and relationships and emotions etc. Yet conversely, there was no waiting when reading this book. For sure it was a story told by a man because there was no time spent lingering too long on anything. It was perfectly paced. He just kept it moving and while you were reading you would know that something else was about to happen soon because the pace was predictable and that made it a great page turner too. The feminine voice of his female character was not ruined by the manly pace of the book. The setting is a Chinese military hospital. It's about a relationship between a couple who never consummate the affair because they wanted to wait to get a problem out of the way. but as the problem persisted, and the waiting went on and on, the waiting ate away at their deepest emotions and time threw everything including the bathtub and kitchen sink, causing them to question both their character and those deep feelings they once thought they held. This book is a great piece of literature and is perfect for a book club.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I had a personal connections with this book. Divorce is a hard thing to deal with this book opened my mind and made me realize that waiting can be a bad thing and good in ways. People going though a divorce would enjoy this book and it might help them though by putting things into propective. Making you realize that people go though things that mske you stronger or weaker. You decide how events effect your life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is great!! I enjoyed the fact that it was a love story. The end is the best part of the book. The ending isn't predictable, but more hopeful for some. I read this book for a class and because I liked it so much, I finished this book in 4 days. I recommend this book to any female!! Anyone who has been through a divorce would enjoy this book as well. Great book for many different kinds of people. The title tells so much about this book and if you have ever waited for someone for any reason, you will love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oh, I loved this book. I couldn't put the book down. I felt I was in this story. The characters were amazing. I felt bad for Lin's wife Shuyu. Waiting is hard to do. The outcome was not what I had expected, but it was sweet. Lin did try to do the best for his family as well as his new family. All the characters suffer pain with what Lin put them through. This book was really amazing. This would be a book I would read again. This book kept you going. It's suspense. A great book.
celerydog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Delicate, poetic prose, character-driven novel. Enjoyed, although it evoked ennui. The protgonist seemed autistic.
marktroop on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An astonishing & touching book
TigsW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well-developed and written book whose main character, Lin, is a complex, but very plausible character who is kindly but quite unable to acknowledge or understand his, or others', emotions. It takes dramatic, and sometimes life-threatening, events to occur before he can get in touch with his real feelings. This shortcoming means that he is generally quite unable to understand or comprehend others' needs, even those closest to him. Some of Lin's deficiencies are undoubtedly the result of the strictures imposed by the authoritarian strictures within which he was raised and liveds and the book does a wonderful job at portraying just how stifling these strictures really were for people living under them. But, this certainly does not account for all of Lin's emotional disconnect. His eventual wife, for instance, was raised an orphan in the same circumstances, yet is in touch with her emotions and is able to express them at times. His first wife, however, to the extent the reader is able to "know" her, seems to suffer similar disconnect as Lin, although it is worsened because she is a woman. This was an intricate, detailed and, in many ways, tragic story that very successfully and convincingly interweaves the combined effects of character, gender and the cultural revolution in a compelling and believable tale.
alana_leigh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Let's face it, I was never going to like this book. I knew that from the beginning, though I did make a few half-hearted attempts to appreciate it for the style and the historical perspective. The fact that it takes place in mid-century China is the only reason it's getting two stars at all, really, because I found the details of their daily lives to be interesting (in a "dear god, how awful!" kind of way). The rationing, the regulation, the lack of agency in one's own life.The basic story is this: in Communist China, a couple needs to live separately for eighteen years before a person can divorce his or her spouse without that spouse's consent. Doctor Lin Kong married young to a woman his parents selected -- an unattractive woman with bound feet (which had passed out of fashion with the previous generation) that he was too embarrassed to bring with him to his hospital in the city, so he kept her in the country. (The fact that his wife, Shuyu, is incredibly simple and has no personality aside from blind devotion isn't really a factor, except it plays on one's pity for her.) She cared for his dying parents and gave him one daughter, Hua. Meanwhile, in the city, Lin develops a friendship with a nurse, Manna, that makes him think that he should divorce Shuyu. The novel charts the years spent waiting for the year that Lin can finally divorce Shuyu and marry Manna, and then follows along for a little while later as they all deal with the repercussions.I've heard that people disliked this novel because they found the characters unlikeable (particularly Lin, who is incredibly weak-willed), but I didn't have that problem. What I did mind was that on all counts, this is a stunted novel. The characters, the novel's revelation, even the language! To start, most of the more complicated aspects of a situation like this (married man intent on someone else, but who still wants to be a "good man") were never touched upon. Both Lin and Manna's thoughts about their relationship were incredibly simplistic, and I could never care about their worries because I knew they didn't really love each other... they simply committed themselves to each other without trying to really discover and love the other person. When Lin finally has this revelation, the tone of the voice in his head is so different it's as though a higher power said, "Enough! Don't you get it?" and had to explain it to him.I understand that this novel meant to explain how the political situation reduced people to the point where they are incapable of maturing in any way, unable to make decisions or have deeper emotions that they believed should guide their actions. Not one character is a sound emotional being. The only two people who seem to ever actually be happy at any point in time are the rapist and the blank-slate wife. It's meant to illustrate the time period where individuality was clearly not prized and where the only inner feeling that was encouraged seemed to be one's devotion. But there was just something missing at every single turn that made me feel as though the author failed in their attempts at producing something truly good and meaningful. When finishing the novel, I actually looked up to see if it might be a translation, which might excuse some of my issues with the language, but no, it was written in English. I suppose I knew it all along, though, as the language is purposely simple as to illustrate the emotionally stunted characters, but still not lovely in its simplicity.I'm thankful that this was a quick read, though (and with a title like Waiting, you can bet that I was worried this would make things feel like time was dragging on), and I'm sure that someone in my book club will have thought this book said something truly meaningful about love and life, so we'll be able to discuss it just long enough so that we can then feel justified in moving on to gossip about our personal lives.
elissajanine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As the title suggests, the majority of the plot of this book is spent waiting; Lin and Manna wait eighteen years for the freedom to marry, but even when at last that wish is granted, there is more waiting--for a sense of contentment that they both expected but never fully experienced. I had a difficult time with the quiet, understated nature of this book. The characters are rather stoic and passive, especially Lin, and his lack of any strong emotional reaction makes it very difficult to relate to his character. My first reaction was to find the story boring; I felt as though I was actually waiting eighteen years right alongside this dull couple. As the novel progresses, as Lin moves from waiting for Manna to waiting to be free of her, the author begins to illuminate the depth of the tragedy in which his characters are trapped. Lin's eventual epiphany about the nature of love and the truth about his feelings for Manna is a little contrived--he essentially has a discussion with a wise voice in his head that leads him to the truth--but it does make his reserved character more easily understood. His passivity results in him waiting endlessly for whatever he does not have. At the same time, he is shocked to find out that others, his former brother-in-law, for one, are jealous of his life. "He thought, How we're each sequestered in our own suffering!" As the characters wait on a personal level, wasting opportunities for happiness or enjoyment along the way, the country waits, too--in a holding pattern of a cultural revolution that feels just as static as the rest of the plot. The novel is written in a very spare prose; the details are precise and unobtrusive, and the pace is at times quite tedious. I did have some trouble understanding the necessity of the rape plot, though it does give insight into the societal restrictions and into Lin's typically baffled character, while giving a sort of turning point perhaps for Manna's decline from a somewhat interesting young woman to the unpleasant and fragile person she seems to become, at least in Lin's eyes. Overall, a book I'm almost certain to change my opinion on with time and thought, and I'm glad I read it.
lukespapa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in China during/after the Cultural Revolution, the novel explores relationships in considering ¿what one has¿ versus ¿what one wants¿ versus ¿what one thinks they want¿. In a time when divorce is not easy to obtain, a doctor seeks to leave behind his simple village wife for a more modern co-worker. Although this process takes 18 years the end result is not what was expected as ¿waiting¿ takes on a whole new meaning ¿ actually several new meanings. A finely crafted novel that is more like drinking a glass of sherry than a shot of whiskey.
RobinDawson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was certainly interesting to see what life in China was like under Mao, but apart from that this book was a disappointment. I don't think it's a worthy winner of the NBA. I felt no sympathy for the characters ¿ Lin in particular was so helpless and hopeless and weak. He wasted so much of his life ¿ but I wasn¿t prepared to waste too much of mine while drifted along ¿ so I didn¿t finish it. I think the language and style were very offputting ¿ very spare, flat, and opaque ¿ just descriptions of externalities giving little insight into the psychological and emotional complexities of the characters.
lynneinfla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book fairly unexciting. I was interested in the picture it paints of life in China, but the story itself was very frustrating. What a wimp the hero is! He waits all his life for other people to make decisions for him, to take care of him, to tell him what to do. Perhaps this was the mentality encouraged by the Chinese government, but his wife and his second wife seemed to have more gumption than he did. Can you tell I didn't like him much at all.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The writing seems very spare. It's not a translation by the way, but by a man whose native language is Chinese writing in English.The characters often exasperated me with their varieties of passivity: Lin in not insisting on divorce or letting Manna go; his wife Shuyu in her submissiveness and passive-aggressive refusal to divorce; Manna in her--waiting. That's very much the plot and theme for two-thirds of the book--waiting. And the last third... well. That would be a spoiler, but not much, because it would imply much happens. Also, the cover has a blurb from The New Yorker calling this a "bracingly tough-minded love story." I think that's misleading. The story does involve the emotion of love. But it's not a romance or romantic. However, I did find so many details of the China of the Cultural Revolution and its totalitarian absurdities and squashing of happiness fascinating. One detail in particular stuck with me. When a girl, Manna had been called "an angel" by an elderly Christian. She didn't know what that was having grown up in Communist China--and the very word had been expunged from the dictionaries. It's the picture of life in that time and place that kept me reading and made it worth reading even though I found the plot thin, the characters unappealing, and the prose dull.
pamdierickx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
China 1950-80.....interesting read. It is a minimalist read. Unusual detail, limited vocabulary and sentence structure. After reading into the book the style became part of the whole. China no one was an individual, everything was decided by the government. The People lived and died and that was all there was except LOVE if you found it. At the end the main character Lin decided that 3 children, 2 sons and 1 daughter made him a lucky man. characters: Lin - father; Shuyu - 1st wife, Hua -daughter; Manna - 2nd wife; Lake and River - twin boys born when he was old.
michiy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was an enjoyable read, however I was not impressed. Disappointed to be more accurate. It probably doesn't help that I don't like Hemingway, who Ha Jin has been compared to, but the simplicity of the writing didn't seem to have any substance. I realize it was his first book in English, but perhaps he shouldn't have written it in English? Or rather, should not have won prizes for "effort". It could have been so much more, but it only grazed the surface. The writing almost felt like a stereotype of what Chinese writing should sound like.
autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel about a man that has an arranged marriage that he wants out of so he can marry someone else. This takes 18 years to come to pass. The book was slow moving and kind of sad. Another story of how the cultural revolution made people afraid to act and feeling hopeless. The ending had me shaking my head and feeling rather unsatisfied with the characters involved. Not real sure what I think of the book overall so I'm not going to recommend it - although I wouldn't say don't read it either. It is one that I would recommend picking up from the library rather than buying.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Waiting tells the story of an army doctor married against his will to a village woman whom he leaves behind at home to conduct an affair with a city nurse. Each summer, he asks his wife for a divorce, and each year, she agrees before changing her mind at the court house. Thanks to the tight regulations of the Cultural Revolution, the doctor and his beloved nurse are forced to live as if they are nothing more than friends. I was impressed by the way the novel didn't allow me to believe that any of the characters were bad people; I understood all of their motives and rooted for each one, even when I understood that their heart's desire would hurt another character. And, even though the story moved slowly, I cared so much about each character that I never though of quitting the book. To fully enjoy the story, readers should keep in mind that this is a Chinese novel, not an American one. Viewed through the lens of Chinese culture, each character's behavior makes sense, and so do the pay-offs each receives at the end of the book. If you try to analyze this exclusively on American terms, you will probably find the characters frustrating and the ending inexplicable.
bolero on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
interesting account of life and love and hardships during the Cultural Revolution in China - but a 1999 National Book Award winner?
cameling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
China's cultural revolutionary years took their toll not only on the country's industrial and economic development, but also the her people's lives. Hunger and famine struck, and many families were separated with members being assigned to rural farms to work. Ha Jin's beautifully written novel takes place during this era in China's history. Lin, a doctor in the People's Liberation Army lives his life according to what he believes to be his duty. He goes through an arranged marriage to a woman in a village but does not love her. He is even embarrassed by her because she has bound feet. His wife stays in the village to raise their daughter and look after his ailing mother. The army does not allow him a divorce except with his wife's consent or unless he has waited for 18 years. He visits his village once a year, and each time, asks his wife for a divorce and each time leaves denied his freedom. Lin has a girlfriend, Manna, at the hospital he works in but they suffer an unconsummated relationship because of his marital status and she enters the waiting game as well, stoically, hopefully, and frustratingly for him to be truly free to love her. The prose is deliberate throughout, and you get the sense of Lin's frustration with and resignation to his situation. When he finally does obtain his divorce, the political landscape in China also goes through fevered changes, and the pace picks up quite forcefully. I found this a moving story of love and missed opportunities as a result of a man's duty to his family and then the army.
angela.vaughn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was like so many others about the Asian Culture, wonderful. It was plum full of love, heartbreak, suffering, and over all passion for life. Ha Jin has a wonderful way with words that will allow you to feel the moment and not just read about it. Easily one of the best books I have read this year. My only regret is that I didn't read it sooner.
actonbell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this novel to be both sad and thought-provoking. Life is especially sad for the female characters Manna and Shuyu, which is not surprising, given the place women have had in Chinese society. The story does strike a nerve with me, since I can identify with the feeling of always waiting for or looking forward to certain times, instead of enjoying the journey, as well. In a way, Ha Jin's novel is a parable warning its audience that it is best to take a good, positive look at what one already has and how to best enjoy life before deciding to pursue a radically different path. Unfortunately, I could not identify with any of the characters; I can't imagine waiting eighteen years for a certain man to divorce his wife, I cannot imagine being poor Shuyu, who continued to work hard and love a man who did not want her, but most of all, I did not understand Lin, the man in the center of all this. He rejects Shuyu from the beginning, not even giving her a chance, because he does not consider her to be "presentable." It's hard for me to admire that! Yes, this was an arranged marriage, but Lin could have backed out. He didn't because he didn't have the backbone to refuse his parents. Lin's indecisiveness, inertia, and fickleness cause all his problems. Shuyu is the one who is forced to wait through no fault of her own, yet--she seems to be the happiest character. Shuyu will always be there for Lin, but she's not waiting, but living her life, one day at a time, in contentment. I think she's a fascinating character.
paperdust on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As far as plot goes this book is pretty uneventful. From the outset we are told that the male protagonist, Lin Kong, fulfills his filial piety duty by marrying a complete stranger who looks after his aging parents, manages the housework, farms the land and raises their child single-handedly. But all this fails to impress Lin Kong; it is a loveless marriage. Upon graduation he works in a city hospital, where he forges a relationship with a female colleague; but it is a forbidden love, as state law decrees that he must divorce his wife first.What this book lacks in plot makes up for in characters. Righteous, methodical, good-nature people who find themselves caught in a quandary. Each character makes a sacrifice; years of waiting turns dreams into doubts. Their illusions of love is distorted by the reality and practicality of daily life: earning a living, domestic chores, raising children, as well as the stifling social and political influences surrounding them - all takes its toll on them and strains their marriage. In the end, we see how relationships can evolve and it is very much a learning process.Fave quote: "The grass gathered the essence of heaven and earth, yin and yang, and the material and the spiritual, and that it unified the body and the soul, the living and the dead, celebrating the infinity and the abundance of life. In brief, it was a very progressive symbol, charged with the proletarian spirit."
TheoClarke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is too easy to use the title of this novel as a cheap shot about the tedium of its pace. Most of the plot is implicit in the first paragraph of the prologue and, although the author conveys a sense of the quiet oppression of life in Communist China, the dry precision of the descriptive passages only serve to slow the pace further. The phrasing is lapidary and admirable for that but this tautness is distancing. The characters are clearly delineated but I found none of them warming. So, this wins points for style but lacks the human engagement that I seek from a novel.