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Waiting Hardcover – September 21, 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 376 customer reviews

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"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

From Publishers Weekly

Jin's quiet but absorbing second novel (after In the Pond) captures the poignant dilemma of an ordinary man who misses the best opportunities in his life simply by trying to do his duty—as defined first by his traditional Chinese parents and later by the Communist Party. Reflecting the changes in Chinese communism from the '60s to the '80s, the novel focuses on Lin Kong, a military doctor who agrees, as his mother is dying, to an arranged marriage. His bride, Shuyu, turns out to be a country woman who looks far older than her 26 years and who has, to Lin's great embarrassment, lotus (bound) feet. While Shuyu remains at Lin's family home in Goose Village, nursing first his mother and then his ailing father, and bearing Lin a daughter, Lin lives far away in an army hospital compound, visiting only once a year. Caught in a loveless marriage, Lin is attacted to a nurse, Manna Wu, an attachment forbidden by communist strictures. According to local Party rules, Lin cannot divorce his wife without her permission until they have been separated for 18 years. Although Jin infuses movement and some suspense into Lin's and Manna's sometimes resigned, sometimes impatient waiting—they will not consummate their relationship until Lin is free—it is only in the novel's third section, when Lin finally secures a divorce, that the story gathers real force. Though inaction is a risky subject and the thoughts of a cautious man make for a rather deliberate prose style (the first two sections describe the moments the characters choose not to act), the final chapters are moving and deeply ironic, proving again that this poet and award-winning short story writer can deliver powerful long fiction about a world alien to most Western readers. (Oct.) FYI: Jin served six years in the People's Liberation Army, and came to the U.S. in 1985.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (September 21, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375406530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375406539
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (376 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,513,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on November 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Reading this book one is reminded of the old Hemingway saw about how fiction should only give away the tip of the iceberg. The graceful, simple prose of this book reveals just the smallest portion of the complex emotional and politcal currents that run beneath this story. This is the kind of book that, once you have finished, you cannot get out of your head. The book jacket calls Ha Jin a "sturdy realist," but that's not really right; his prose has much more in common with a modernist minimalism. A must read for anyone who thinks that fiction writing in America is moribund.
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By A Customer on October 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - as much for what it reveals of China as for the plot. The three people at the center of this novel --husband, wife and the 'girlfriend' (not mistress, that step is too dangerous for them to risk) who waits 18 years for him to get a divorce-- are in a state of limbo for much of their adult lives, constricted as they are by the laws of their society and by the limitations of their experience. This is a fast, easy book to read, but I don't mean this to sound negative, much is going on beneath the surface of an apparently straightforward story, and it left me contemplating how much we all take for granted about the laws of our society, how rarely we question the conventions we're brought up with. Well worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
i am a chinese woman myself & find this to be a beautifully written book with a real story to tell about love & life in modern china.
admittedly the novel does sound strangely "translated" from the chinese. u can actually pick out many literal chinese phrases like "stupid egg" that a western reader would perhaps find weird, disjointed & possibly unintelligible.
believe me when i say that this book describes very truly how chinese people love & why.
not only has "waiting" magically captured the universal truths of love (in all it's fragility & forms)amidst the pressures of society, culture & enforced political climate, which would explain why it won a well-deserved national book award, it also serves as a very accurate behind-the-scenes look at why the chinese act & behave the way they behave.
there are different little character rhythms from lin kong, manna, shuyu, hua & her uncle sprinkled all over the book that are only too familiar to any chinese who have been brought up in strict households from infants to be ruthlessly filial, obediant & good to the point of being uptight & submissive.
i am not saying that western people are not brought up with the same good qualities but the almost-oppressive way that these virtues are drummed in from young are a totally chinese thing.
read this book with an open mind & heart to learn more about the chinese people & i believe u will not be disppointed.
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By A Customer on June 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I believe I can understand the negative comments this book has received, but I do not agree with them. Having several Asian friends, I was fascinated by the glimpse into Chinese culture--not only the political landscape, but family relations. I think people may be expecting something more grandiose from this book since it is an award winner. Rather, this book is like its main character, subtle. The narrative is straight forward, and the story is literally about "waiting," waiting for a period in your life to begin. I think what this book gives us, besides a wonderful peek into Chinese society, is a lesson to find what we love in life and revel in it. This is not a book to "polish off quickly." Rather it is one to read and think about each word, and the way those words are presented. I loved it. I finished the book several weeks ago, and I still think of Lin, and wonder if he will ever really know happiness.
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Format: Hardcover
"Waiting" shows the truth in the maxim that life is what happens when we wait for life to begin. Set in industrial Northeast China in the years before, during and just after the Cultural Revolution, the book is not overtly about politics, but rather about how individuals try to find their bit of happiness within the constraints imposed by society and character. On another level, the ambivalence the protagonist feels toward his traditional wife in the village, and the woman he loves in the city, is a proxy for China's own transition from a traditional culture to a modern, communist state -- which itself becomes weary and exhausted as the world changes around it. Ha Jin has a wonderful touch with evocative details, and brings to life a time and place that is already slipping into history.
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Format: Paperback
The author, Ha Jin (Xuefei Jin) left China in 1985. Illiterate until his mid-teens, he presently teachs English at Emory University and has published two books of poetry, two collections of short stories, and two novels.
"Waiting" is a simple fairy tale, a story in which much is being said underneath its surface. Based on an old ancient Chinese folktale (or a true story as defined by the author in an interview), Ha Jin recreates and sets the plot in a moder post-revolutionary China. There is a two-fold approach: the universal, in which Ha Jin deals with human nature, its virtues and frailties, the issues of loyalty, duty, friendship, betrayal, and love; and the strictly Chinese, the social/political system. Although the characters are not politically oriented and the plot evolves indifferent to the chaotic world outside the insular setting, there is a clear political allegory and ideological irony (the book has been banned in China). All the characters are directly or indirectly victims of a social/political system, of a collective society where the individual can never exist or act "per se."
The plot is a love triangle: Lin Kong, a Chinese physician, loyal officer of the Revolutionary Army, entangled in a loveless pre-arranged marriage, for 18 years desperately seeking a divorce; his wife, Shuyu, an illeterate village girl, bound feet, subservient, and with a moral superiority which the author does not explore; Manna Wu, a modern woman, hospital nurse, in love with Lin Kong. Lin Kong personifies the sleepwalker, a man who is pushed and pulled by others' opinions, by external pressures, and by internalized official rules.
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