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Waiting (1999)

by Ha Jin, Ha Jin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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chinese society during and since cultural revolution
  ndfan19 | Aug 17, 2023 |
Here's what I wrote in 2009 about this read: "Simple story of yearning, and waiting for life to line up well enough to enjoy. But perhaps we are intended to make the most of what we have, since one can always want something slightly beyond reach. A simple story, full of insights re daily life in Communist China of 1980's; an educational read on two fronts." ( )
  MGADMJK | Aug 2, 2023 |
Set in China during the Cultural Revolution, protagonist Lin Kong is a doctor living and working at a hospital in the city of Mija China. He wants to divorce his wife, who lives apart from him in the countryside with their daughter. China’s laws and customs do not make it easy to obtain a divorce. Lin is thwarted year after year. In the meantime, he has developed a loving, but platonic, relationship a colleague. They wish to marry once he obtains a divorce.

As the title indicates, this book is about waiting. It is as if Lin is continuously waiting for his life to start. To me, this book reads as an excellent example of the phrase “You Only Live Once,” which has become so popular recently. It shows the need to act rather than wait for life to happen to you. It also shows what can happen to someone who is not satisfied with his life, always thinking that life would be better if only circumstances could change (while doing little to effect change or to find a way to enjoy what he currently has).

I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of Chinese life under Mao Tse Tung, where the people appear to be waiting for the benefits of his regime to be made clear. There is one horrific event that came out of the blue, so be prepared for something awful to happen in this otherwise quiet book. I liked it but I felt like I was waiting for a revelation that never occurred.

( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
I just finished Waiting and I gave it a 4. Many times I judge a book on whether I think about it during the day and I want to come home from work and pick it up again. Last night I was having trouble sleeping and crushed 30 pages between 2am and 4:30am.

I own this book, having picked up a copy several years ago when my wife and I were visiting our son at Michigan Tech. I saw it for sale as a used book on a shelf in one of the university libraries. I thought the author was Korean American and only after I had it home did I realize that he is Chinese.

As some of you know, my focus for non-US literature tends to be Korea so, no, I have not read much literature set in China. In fact, I have yet to read The Good Earth, a Pulitzer winner that I should read. I thought it was interesting that the book started during the mid-60s cultural revolution and continued into the early 80s. The communist regime had so many personal and intellectual restrictions on it's people. As I was reading it I was struck by how the Chinese form of communism was almost like a conservative religious sect with all the rules and guidelines people had to follow.

I also kept comparing and contrasting Chinese culture with Korean culture. Korean has been heavily influenced by China over the centuries in the arts, Buddhism, Confucianism, government, language, etc....but there are also subtle differences. There is a greater hierarchy in Korea. More attention is paid to age differences as well as social rank it seems, in Korea, than in China. There was some of that in this book but it seemed to be more of a hierarchy of government officials.

I also couldn't help comparing this book to Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure which is the last book I read with a small group here on GR. I was struck by how much Lin Kong was like Jude Fawley. Both characters were manipulated and torn between two women, however that is too much to go into here.

The book was poignant for me, especially the last 100 or so pages when Lin Kong was able to finally marry Manna Wu. Lin's struggle with his feelings for Manna and whether he really loved her or not, after waiting for 18 years, and his realizations about his life to that point were very poignant for me. The last page in particular had me choked up a bit.

I liked Ha Jin's writing style but there were times that I felt that I was hovering over the characters in this book and that the story had kind of a clinical feel to it. In hindsight, this may have been on purpose, perhaps to convey the idea that the characters could not express their full emotions for each other.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. ( )
  DarrinLett | Aug 14, 2022 |
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.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 76 (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, Haprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jin, Hamain 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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