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Waiting (1999)

by Ha Jin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,836772,634 (3.55)171
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 society designed to regulate his every move and stifle the promptings of his innermost heart. For more than seventeen years, this devoted and ambitious doctor has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Manna Wu. But back in the traditional world of his home village lives the wife his family chose for him when he was young - a humble and touchingly loyal woman, whom he visits in order to ask, again and again, for a divorce. In a culture in which the ancient ties of tradition and family still hold sway and where adultery discovered by the Party can ruin lives forever, Lin's passionate love is stretched ever more taut by the passing years. Every summer, his compliant wife agrees to a divorce but then backs out. This time, Lin promises, will be different. Tracing these lives through their summer of decision and beyond, Ha Jin vividly conjures the texture of daily life in a place where the demand of human longing must contend with the weight of centuries of custom. Waiting charms and startles us with its depiction of a China that remains hidden to Western eyes even as it moves us with its piercing vision of the universal complications of love.… (more)
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» See also 171 mentions

English (72)  Dutch (1)  Hungarian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (75)
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
A Chinese novel written in English by a man who decided to stay in the West after the Tiananmen Square events of 1989. Which does not make either the novel or the author less Chinese - but it makes the novel a bit more accessible than translated novels.

My library initially shelved this into its romance section but then re-shelved under General Fiction (and never covered the old label fully so it is still vaguely visible). And I am not surprised. On the surface it looks like a romance novel. In a way it is a romance novel - in the same way Anna Karenina is a romance novel for example.

Lin Kong is trying to find a way to be with the woman he loves. He is an army doctor, living in the city but married to a woman in a distant village who he sees once a year. He never chose his bride, Shuyu - his parents arranged his marriage and he meekly accepted. He even managed to produce a daughter with her - and while she took care of his dying parents one after the other, he built his life in the city. Shuyu is old-fashioned even for the village - she has bound feet (which she is the wrong generation for - her mother's generation was supposed to be the last one to suffer with that but she was not spared, she is uneducated and unsophisticated - the wrong woman for Lin Kong in all possible ways.

And there is Manna Wu, a nurse in the same hospital, Lin Kong's sweetheart who he cannot even hold hands with or go on a walk with outside of the hospital compound because of the rules that everyone lives with. China of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s is not exactly known for allowing a lot of freedom.

So when the novel opens, Lin Kong and Shuyu are in front of a judge, after 17 years of separation, in 1983, asking for a divorce. Until Shuyu changes her mind again and the judge denies the request again. That had been happening over and over for more than a decade and Lin Kong is getting disheartened. But that's not really where the story must start - because after this interlude, we go back to 1963 to see Lin Kong becoming a doctor and falling in love and then living through all the years until we can catch up with them in 1983.

And as much as it is the story of Manna Wu and Lin Kong, it is also the a glimpse into the history of China and the relationships in it in this era - restricted, monitored, always on the verge of becoming a disaster. And the two women represent the old and the new, the traditional and the modern and in places become more symbols than actual human beings. But underneath that they are people, with feelings and regrets and the symbolic person and the real one merge into a single entity. People are people - it does not matter what ideology you believe in, love is always going to be there. But at the same time the novel is also an exploration of what happens to love when it needs to wait and what happens when people try to hang to dreams from decades ago.

In a way the novel has a happy ending but not in the way one would expect. It makes one wonder what is worth fighting for and if dreams are worth getting realized at the end. In that triangle, the weakest link is always Lin Kong - his indecisiveness ends up costing decades of the lives of both women connected to him and at the end he is the one who gets to complain. There is a lot to be said about the female characters here and the place of women in the society - the "we are all the same" of communism was always a nice slogan but never really worked like that.

I ended up liking this novel a lot. It has a melancholy feeling that works in a way I did not expect it to work - underneath the seemingly easy novel sits a meditation on love and choices, on dreams coming true too late and on human nature. ( )
1 vote AnnieMod | Jun 15, 2022 |
“Waiting”is a novel filled with the culture of Chinese relationships. This novel explored a world I knew next to nothing about and I found it quite interesting .Lin, a doctor in the Chinese army has been in a loveless marriage for over 18 years. Because of party rules and ancient traditions , he is finding it difficult to divorce her to marry the woman he has promised to marry for 18 years. Manna is a nurse in the same compound bound by culture herself.
There’s a great deal of irony and humorous in this novel, pathos plus frustration as you want to give Lin a good shake.
A slow moving novel that did grow on me. ( )
  Smits | Feb 25, 2022 |
Quality Writing, Ideas

"Waiting: A Novel" is a simple story about love and unfulfilled expectations. The basic plot could be transported to nearly any culture or gender: a man is married to a woman he appreciates but does not love and he has met another woman.

Lin Kong, the husband, is a doctor at a military hospital. With a few exceptions, most of the action takes place within the hospital compound where Lin passes the time reading and strolling until he meets Manna Wu. He quickly becomes infatuated with Manna despite being married to Shuyu, who remains in Lin's home village raising his daughter and taking care of his elderly parents.

What makes the book stand out is Ha Jin's exceptional writing. His sentences and paragraphs flow with ease and order. There is little extraneous information despite the visual descriptions.Despite the many characters "waiting" for something to happen, there are several peaks of action. In this sense, "Waiting" is similar to Ha Jin's "In the Pond," a similar book about a man with unfulfilled expectations. However, it is quite different from "Ocean of Words," Ha Jin's short story collection about soldiers on the Russian border, which is fast-paced and has different characters moving in and out of the narrative.

In the end, "Waiting" is a terrific, somewhat melancholy novel that echoes Henry David Thoreau's poem that "men lead lives of quiet desperation." ( )
  mvblair | Aug 8, 2020 |
1999 National Book Award for fiction. A love story. ( )
  hcubic | Jun 20, 2020 |
There is a folksy tone characteristic of some other (but not all) Chinese novels I've read. A slightly over-formal yet simplistic delivery and style that I'm not the biggest fan of. It works for this book, but I wouldn't mind a more modern tone. I wonder a little if it's contrived and meant to be written in a style which matches writing from era it describes (1930's - 1970's in China).

That aside, it was ok. Not fantastic yet not boring. Sometimes the characters are tedious and annoying, other times somewhat charming or interesting. It's unexceptional while being well put together. I liked War Trash (by the same author) much better. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (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
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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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 society designed to regulate his every move and stifle the promptings of his innermost heart. For more than seventeen years, this devoted and ambitious doctor has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Manna Wu. But back in the traditional world of his home village lives the wife his family chose for him when he was young - a humble and touchingly loyal woman, whom he visits in order to ask, again and again, for a divorce. In a culture in which the ancient ties of tradition and family still hold sway and where adultery discovered by the Party can ruin lives forever, Lin's passionate love is stretched ever more taut by the passing years. Every summer, his compliant wife agrees to a divorce but then backs out. This time, Lin promises, will be different. Tracing these lives through their summer of decision and beyond, Ha Jin vividly conjures the texture of daily life in a place where the demand of human longing must contend with the weight of centuries of custom. Waiting charms and startles us with its depiction of a China that remains hidden to Western eyes even as it moves us with its piercing vision of the universal complications of love.

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