Waiting

by Ha Jin

Hardcover, 1999

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Pantheon Books, c1999.

Description

"For more than seventeen years, Lin Kong, a dedicated doctor, ahas been passionately in love with an educated, modern woman, Manna Wu, but back in his traditional home village lives the humble, loyal wife his family chose for him years ago. Every summer, he returns to ask her for a divorce and every summer his compliant wife agrees but then backs out. This time, after eighteen years' waiting, Lin promises it will be different." --Back cover

Media reviews

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.
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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.
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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cameling
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.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Now this is a feminist novel. i thought it was gonna be about me, sorta, and it certainly fucking wasn't. Here's what it was: woman loves man. Man loves woman. Man is too ridden with guilt and inertia to leave his longsuffering, unloved and devoted wife. And so everything hangs on him, and everybody suffers, and each year he goes home to divorce her and fails and they're all a year older.

And it makes you pause, because Lin isn't the hero, even if he gets more face time than anyone else. Like all of us men, he's just a loser who gets to be protagonist by virtue of his gender. All the situations and arrangements exist at his instigation or sufferance, and he dithers, unaware or maybe even a little little bit pleased with his unassailable ability to set the agenda for these women's lives, interpret all their needs and fears.

They're the heroes - Manna and Shuyu, and by extension, every woman we inecvitably jerk around, whether by being a dick or a "nice man." Lin Kong is the latter or at least a man of thought rather than decisive action, and as such this book is not entirely dissimilar thematically to a Hamlet that knows the real story is what happens between him and Ophelia.

But also totally different. And the insight into Cultural Revolution-era mores and the way traditional society was translated through the Maoist lens (and to an extent through post-Deng capitalism, although the story peters out about then) is fascinating.
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LibraryThing member michiy
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member elissajanine
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.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member alana_leigh
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.
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LibraryThing member klack128
I read this on a recommendation, and I'm not entirely sure how I felt about it. It was so different from my normal reads, I think it's taking some time to sink in.

The culture represented in this book is SO DIFFERENT than anything I can wrap my head around. The Chinese politics and customs depicted are so different than anything I've ever experienced as a Westerner. I sometimes felt a bit detached from the characters, but I think it was partly because their social customs forced them to interact in a very specific, restrained way.

About halfway through, I found myself trying to decide whether I really liked or disliked anyone. The only answer I had at the time was that I liked the long-suffering Shuyu. By the end, though, I think I felt differently. Behaviors that irritated me. The characters were simply acting within the constraints of the society in which they lived, and this prevented them from figuring out HOW they wanted to live, and what would bring them real happiness. It made me sad for them.

This book really made me think, and forced me to leave my own comfort zone, which is something I really appreciated.
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LibraryThing member celerydog
Delicate, poetic prose, character-driven novel. Enjoyed, although it evoked ennui. The protgonist seemed autistic.
LibraryThing member hkustlibrarything
As some people have suggested that Ha Jin a non-native speaker can write novels in English of such translucence and power is truly remarkable!
LibraryThing member paperdust
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."
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LibraryThing member bolero
interesting account of life and love and hardships during the Cultural Revolution in China - but a 1999 National Book Award winner?
LibraryThing member d.homsher
Twenty-Year Stymied Love Affair, China, Cultural Revolution.
A Chinese man and woman, army doctor and nurse, both restricted by Mao's rules, which they've internalized, carry on an affair that lasts for years. The doctor is married to a village woman, whom he repeatedly visits to ask for a divorce, but he lacks daring, fears the consequences to his career if he stirs up any trouble, and recognizes that his legal wife has cared for members of his family over the years. His lover makes a few, listless attempts to marry. Plain spoken, spare narrative. A look into a different world. You can read it in a few hours ... is that good or bad?… (more)
LibraryThing member TigsW
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member rldougherty
The tale of Lin Kong's eighteen year wait to divorce his wife and marry Manna Wu, his soulmate, is gut-wrenching. Is this what life is? Love? Is love physical attraction? or loyalty? or something else? Is one's marriage truly an individual choice? How is comradeship amid the revolution similar to marriage? Do our lives pass while we wait for that which we think will bring us happiness? Is the futility of the pursuit of individual happiness the point of this novel?

I was fascinated by the descriptions of the beauty and grittiness of the landscape, Lin and Manna's evolving relationship, and the mouth-watering descriptions of food. But the ending was unsatisfying to me. Perhaps that visceral dissatisfaction was what Ha Jin was attempting to evoke in readers' hearts.
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LibraryThing member alexis3700
TEDIOUS. I kept WAITING for a story to develop. Similar to Waiting for Godot. A story about nothing. So glad I finally finished and was able to move onto something else.
LibraryThing member AnneliM
Set in China between 1960s and 1980s. A doctor, originally from a small village, is married young to a woman with bound feet, roo ugly to be taken to the city and the hospital where he works. There he meets another woman and for 17 years he is torn between the two, unable to get a divorce and also unable to live with the woman in the city for political reasons. Interwoven is the politcal and cultural atmosphere of China during that time.… (more)
LibraryThing member vnovak
Winner of the National Book Award, this book is a seamless evocation of China through the years. In tone, reminded me a little of Kafka or Solzhenitsyn. Well-written, but ultimately disappointing in its ambivalence towards marriage.
LibraryThing member TheoClarke
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member dougwood57
'Waiting' is a strange tale to a Westerner. Jin Kong and Manna Wu wait 18 years for Jin to finally successfully divorce his wife after many attempts. They seem to be in love, but are they really? Or is the waiting simply making Jin desire what he cannot have? Or once he gets it will he just want something else, like what he had or could have had but always rejected?

The book deftly portrays the interplay of rural Chinese traditions and the Communist Chinese bureaucratic rules - both of which seem designed to prevent happiness and to constrict and bind the characters (sometimes literally). The restrictions force Jin to live in his head and make the reader want to strangle him at times.

Not necessarily a 'fun' book, but a fascinating read nonetheless.
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LibraryThing member lukespapa
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member autumnesf
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member lynneinfla
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member pamdierickx
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.
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LibraryThing member RobinDawson
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member actonbell
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.
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