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Waiting by Ha Jin

Waiting (1999)

by Ha Jin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,412692,243 (3.56)148



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English (65)  Dutch (1)  Hungarian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (68)
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
At first, I was a little bored by this book....a couple waiting close to 18 years to marry or even to become lovers? Just get on with it! But, that feeling didn't last long as this is a deeper story about love, loyalty and life in a more rigid culture than we enjoy in today's Canada. Lin is married to a peasant woman who lives on the family farm, looking after his aging parents and raising their daughter. He is an Army doctor living in a far-off city, where he falls in love with a nurse. There are many rules and norms that prevent Lin and his true love from being together: Army rules, Communist Party Rules, laws that require divorce to be consensual, family expectations.

The real tragedy is that Lin is unable to break free of any of these bonds, thereby missing out on a satisfying marriage, his daughter's life, time with his true love. The messages are subtle, but heart wrenching at the same time. ( )
  LynnB | Aug 16, 2018 |
3.5 stars, rounded up.

I am frequently surprised by books that I think will be about one thing and turn out to be about another. This story is set in Communist China, and what I expected was a dissection of that time in history. That was an element, but this book is truly about a man, Lin Kong, who cannot make up his mind how to live his life, and as a result finds himself always waiting for his life to begin.

There is happiness and possibility all around him, but he is never able to grasp any of it. His wife, to whom he has become attached through an arranged marriage, is a peasant woman. She seems too simple, countrified and uneducated for his tastes and position, but his visits home prove to us that he might have been happy in her company had he allowed himself to be. He spurns her company and misses the entire life of his daughter, who might have been a source of joy for his life but was not. His mistress, if you can truly call her that, is a well-educated woman with whom he works, but he can never commit himself to her seriously enough to divorce his wife and begin a true life with her. The result is that all three of these people are waiting, always waiting, for his decision, for him to act, for life to begin.

The story is written in a clipped style that suggests the thoughts and confusion of Lin Kong. I found it appropriate for this story, although it is bleak and almost depressing at times. I felt varying emotional reactions to each of these three people at different times in the story, for like all human beings, they are complex and not always likable. Perhaps the wife is a little cliche, dutiful and self-deprecating, but I do think there would have been women in this situation at the beginning of the transition to Mao’s China. Old worlds do not give way to new worlds without catching some people in the middle.

If nothing else, this book reminds us that our lives are limited things--best to live them while you can.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
This was a great novel about life in China during Mao's regime. ( )
  JBarringer | Dec 30, 2017 |
I was listening to this on audio and got distracted from it. It wasn't holding my interest to begin with, and I realize I'm not going to go back to it. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
Beautiful but painful; I have seriously mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the story draws the reader into an experience from the perspectives of different characters and allows us to sympathise with those with whom we might not naturally sympathise. By the end, I found myself feeling the pain of characters that at the beginning I was rooting against. The writing flows calmly and patiently across the generation of time that the action spans, and the setting gives illuminating glimpses into post-Mao China without being heavy-handed.

On the other hand, there is a lot of misogyny in this story. None of the female characters are treated particularly well. I was torn between wanting to give the author the benefit of the doubt in his effort to expose how Chinese society might contribute to these types of female experiences, and between an irritating conviction that if he'd wanted to, he could have written a lot less female pain into the narrative. I found Kenneth Champeon's review informative as a picture of what the women in the story represent. I don't know whether Ha Jin could have found a kinder way to say the things he wanted to say about his country. I can only say that I found his writing emotionally and physically triggering and disturbing to read, and that as I look for information about him and discover the same things explored over and over in his other works, I can't help but find this thematic obsession troubling. ( )
  quaintlittlehead | Nov 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
Above all, what he accomplishes in the book is to place the story amid the politics without the latter being given any undue significance or credence. As in most ordinary lives, even those lived in extraordinary times, political upheaval is but another condition to be surmounted, circumnavigated, forged or ignored. A lesser writer would have taken the usual route, politicizing the personal, overwhelming the larger matters of the human heart, specially the most ordinary of human hearts, with the smaller explosions of mob activity. But not Jin.
A deceptively simple tale, written with extraordinary precision and grace. Ha Jin has established himself as one of the great sturdy realists still writing in a postmodern age.
added by aurevoir | editKirkus Reviews (Aug 1, 1999)
Ha Jin observes everything about army and civilian life, yet he tells the reader only -- and precisely -- as much as is needed to make his deceptively simple fiction resonate on many levels: the personal, the historical, the political..''Waiting'' also generously provides a dual education: a crash course in Chinese society during and since the Cultural Revolution, and a more leisurely but nonetheless compelling exploration of the less exotic terrain that is the human heart. ...''Waiting'' can be read as a long and eloquent answer to Manna's question, an all too rare reminder of the reasons someone might feel so strongly about a book.


» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jin, HaAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hornfeck, SusanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Lisha, Alone and Together
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Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375706410, Paperback)

"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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:18 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In Waiting, PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author Ha Jin draws on his intimate knowledge of contemporary China to create a novel of unexpected richness and feeling. This is the story of Lin Kong, a man living in two worlds, struggling with the conflicting claims of two utterly different women as he moves through the political minefields of a society designed to regulate his every move and stifle the promptings of his innermost heart.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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