In Waiting, PENHemingway Awardwinning 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 heartFor 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 younga 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 taut by the passing years Every summer, his compliant wife agrees to a divorce but then backs out This time, Lin promises, will be differentTracing these lives through their summer of decision and beyond, Ha Jin vividly conjures the texture of daily life in a place where the demands 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 universalcomplications of love

10 thoughts on “Waiting

  1. Petra-X Petra-X says:

    This was the first Ha Jin I read. It is hard to imagine that the superb use of language is by someone who learned English, a second language.

    What is so special about the writing is its very sparing use of adjectives. It reads clean and tight - each word moves the story and characters along without any padding. Because the writing is so good, the characters and situations are clearly seen and it is the reader's imagination, interpretation, that supplies the descriptions and adjectives.

    The lack of adjectives serve another purpose - they depersonalise the characters outwardly, just as the Communist regime reduced everyone to similarly-dressed workers. The only character who is decidedly different and more likeable than the others is the protagonist's peasant wife.

    Life in the country was more relaxed all around, the extreme rigidity of the Party not even extending to consistently enforcing the one-child policy. As in the country, plants bloom, and so did Shuyu despite having the, by now, archaic, bound feet. Perhaps they meant that she didn't let things hold her back? But in the hospital, sterility is enforced. And that is the environment of the love affair of Lin Kong and Manna Wu. Anything that is not encouraged or at least condoned by the Party is interpreted as disease and must be cut down at source.

    I loved the book. Others have found the characters stilted and the situations unbelievable. I don't think they are looking at it from the perspective of someone who has lived in a society utterly different from our own, I would rather think that the author knew what he was writing about. However, the world I inhabit is the world of the book and it doesn't make it more or less enjoyable whether it gybes with reality or not.

    5 stars.

  2. Zheng Zheng says:

    As someone who grew up in China, I found the characters very real. I read many reviews about this book talking about how none of characters are likable, except for the simple peasant ex-wife of Lin's.

    But I think that is what the author was trying to tell us-that the system reduced every individual's humanity and individuality to the extent no one was a complete person anymore. The only reason that the simple peasant wife Shuyu seems to be more likable is because she was more human than anyone else. She was more human because her life was much less controlled by the government in the remote countryside, so her humanity is much less distorted.

    I think it is a great love story because it shows how fragile human love and decency is and how easy it is to destroy what is beautiful.

  3. Fabian Fabian says:

    Devastating & beautiful, the story is nothing if not universal. The Chinese Cultural Revolution is the backdrop & when it surrounds the characters, showing off the beauty & ugliness that is that double-edged sword, it traps them in situations which have seemingly no escape. There is here the spirit of romance which books like Like Water for Chocolate adequately display, as well as that overall apocalyptic feel of doom from Never Let Me Go. Thoroughly splendid: it is one solid, brilliant jewel on the litcrown.

  4. Erin Erin says:

    ok, so here's how i got rabies. true story.

    i'm in thailand. thailand is pretty much awesome, i like going there a lot, as long as you stay away from touristy places like phuket and don't go to bangkok. people get sucked into bangkok and never return.

    so, i'm in bangkok (of course) and it's hard not to get sucked into a place like that, you know? fifty bajillion people stacked on top of each other like sardines, zipping around on highly unsafe wheeled vehicles that would never pass california safety emissions test, and not just because their mufflers are made of duct tape. it's fascinating. and scary. you can't survive there long without help. i'm guessing that's why they made khao san road.

    khao san road is like... it's like... well, it's civilization. at least that's what an australian kid once told me over a beer on the street. i think he got it pretty right. it's like a mecca for weary travelers in southeast asia, smack dab in the middle of the city, with hostels every two feet, nice old women offering to do your laundry for ridiculously cheap prices, massage parlors, restaurants with food you can pronounce in your native tongue (they try so hard, but still, what's with the corn on my pizza? no one eats corn on their pizza, guys). it's like safe bangkok. when you stumble into khao san road after 2 weeks off the map in cambodia, you could almost weep for joy. civilization, you see? everyone there is on their way to somewhere or recovering from somewhere. khao san isn't a place you go just to visit, it's a place you go after visiting somewhere else.

    and it's crazy. especially when things get dark.

    black market goods. fake watches. hair braiding. ping pong ball shows? street performers. i mean, you can get all this in other places in asia, probably with more variety and less chance of being kidnapped into slavery. but there's something about the relief in being back in civilization that makes people go crazy. it might have something to do with the children running around in the streets, offering to sell you cocktails mixed in beach buckets. no actually it probably has a lot to do with the beach buckets.

    see after traveling in crazy places, keeping your guard up, trying not to get malaria, or lost, or eaten by wild animals, it's nice to have a safe zone filled with other tourists. logically, the first thing you do when you get to this zone is find a beer and try to one up someone else with a story of how you almost got malaria, or lost, or eaten by wild animals.

    this was my plan, anyway. so i settle down with a pad thai and a watermelon shake, under the glow of the chelsea game (thanks satellite) at a nice little pub. the bar opens out into the street. it's a hot night, but the fans are going. a stream of humanity trickles by me in slow motion. and that's when, out of nowhere, a wild animal actually tried to eat me. yes, at the bar.

    it was large and growly, with terrifying eyes that glistened under the table. kind of. i mean it hadn't been cuddled in awhile, so it's hair was kind of tufty. and it WAS on the larger side, for most kittens. i totally made up the part about the eyes.

    it thought i was offering it some shrimp. which, i wasn't. i was going to throw the shrimp across the floor of the bar so it could run after it. and stop sitting on my flip flop. unfortunately, the kitty was faster than my puny human reflexes, and whilst nabbing the shrimp from my hand, it also kind of bit me.

    when you get bit by a loner cat in thailand, nobody cares. which is cool. turns out, when you get bit by a cat in thailand and then casually mention it to your travel physician in an email, ya know, because you want to make sure the tetanus shot kicked in before you left, well... people go crazy. important people. like county department of health people. they want you to come home so you can do boring stuff like be safe, and get a post-exposure rabies vaccine. blaaaaah. boring.

    which is exactly what i was expecting the 16 hour plane flights back home to be. hella boring. so i found this book, waiting (you were just WAITING to see what this review had to do with it, huh?! huh?? haha puns!) and tucked it into my bag to stave off the craziness. (not the rabies-crazy, that doesn't kick in for 2 weeks. the i can't stand to watch another korean soap opera on this 3x3 inch screen while a small japanese child throws hello kitty jelly beans at me for the next 12 hours crazy).

    well, it sucked. the book that is. about three dozen people have said this already, and way more succinctly than me... you spend this book waiting for it to get good. and then it doesn't. i don't need my literature to have a point, an ending, or even, sometimes, a plot. but i do like it to have interesting characters and at least one satisfying moment of decent prose. this novel, i can honestly say, had none.

    so i thought, if all these people came to this page on goodreads to read a review of the book, angry that they had wasted their time with such a long and unfufilling narrative like waiting... i might as well give them a story that at least TRIES to be 1/10th as good as waiting. since none of us can get our money back. or the fake silver watch we traded for it. ya know, whatever.

    ps. did you know you have to get FOUR freaking shots to stave off the rabies? srsly. i'm not even going to tell you where either.

  5. Whitaker Whitaker says:

    This book makes me feel dirty: like I need to scrub myself with Lysol several times over. Is there a term for a Chinese equivalent of an Uncle Tom? Because that's the kind of book this is. It's stuffed to bursting with Western stereotypes of Chinese people: the happily subservient, foot-bound woman; the sexually insatiable Asian beauty; the emasculated, impotent male. Ha Jin is deliberately writing a book targeted at a Western audience, designed to provide non-threatening images of China to the Western reader who can take comfort in the stamp of authenticity conferred by Ha Jin's Chinese background.

    The first few chapters give it away: Shuyu, the protagonist's wife and a farmer's daughter born in 1934, has bound feet. This would have been very very rare by that time especially for a peasant woman. By way of contrast, note that in Tales of Hulan River —a Chinese novel/memoir written by a Chinese woman in Chinese for a Chinese audience and focused on the plight of Chinese women living in a patriarchal, misogynistic society—the writer, the daughter of a rich family and a child around 1900, did not have her feet bound, and such practices were more prevalent in her social class and at that earlier time. In fact, foot binding does not make an appearance at all in her book.

    Is there some narrative use made of Shuyu's bound feet that might justify this narrative choice? No, none whatsoever. While it is used as an explanation for why Lin Kong is embarrassed by her, there are so many other reasons given for why he is not happy with her that this additional one makes no difference to the novel's dramatic arc. Its presence, however, gives the novel that exotic frisson: Oh, those barbarous Chinese, torturing their women that way. And this is only one example.

    Even if I were not totally turned-off by this Uncle Tong-ism, the leaden writing and one-dimensional characters would sink this book. (view spoiler)[Even worse, while purporting to provide a pro-feminist perspective—Shuyu's long-suffering fidelity is eventually rewarded, while Lin Kong's infidelity is punished—this too is no more than a tissue-thin, false pandering to his target demographic of Western housewives. After all, what makes Lin Kong realise the folly of infidelity? The fact that Shuyu is more than willing to abase herself to him and to slave for him to give him peace and quiet, in contrast to his final fate of being a father faced with the demands of a new wife and two baby sons. Oh boo hoo, he has to wash diapers. Waaaah! (hide spoiler)]

  6. Ernest Ernest says:

    The onslaught of awards and critical acclaim this book has garnered (including the biggie, The National Book Award of 1999) epitomizes the most lamentable trend in such current practices: pandering political correctness.

    Despite featuring wooden dialogue spoken by boring characters I could care less about and descriptions that rival phone book listings in their vividness, Waiting DOES conform to pre-existing, fetishized Western notions of Chinese culture. Thus, delighted progressive (probably white, perhaps guilt-ridden) tastemakers were all too eager to reward such an exotic tale of unrequited love even though the surface originality of an actual Chinese romance (!) from an actual Chinese guy (!!) written in English (!!!), barely conceals the amateurish, mundane disposability that is the book's true nature.

    To its supporters, the spare minimalism of the writing matches generalized perceptions of the Asian aesthetic forging a sort of modern, Eastern Hemingway in which his level of economical depth and insight is matched or, dare I say, even exceeded. And while it is true that sometimes less is more (as with Hemingway or, say, William Carlos Williams), sometimes less is simply less. Waiting is, quite simply, hackneyed drivel that underscores the immutable fact that whether it resides in the sewers of New York City or the fields of a rural Chinese village, crap is still crap.

  7. Cecily Cecily says:

    Wooden writing (I can't blame the translation, as it was written in English) and shallow characters, but an interesting story that could only be set in mid/late 20th century China: about discipline, longing coupled with detachment, lost opportunities and more.

    Best summed up by Book Wyrm:
    it was like trying to listen to an account of an orgy told by the world's most boring eunuch
    See his review here.

  8. Rebbie Rebbie says:

    3.5 stars

    Damn you, Lin. Damn you for making me cry over what you did to Shuyu. And yet I still worry over you, even though you're just a fictional character in a book. Do you even know what happiness is, Lin? How about what it costs and what it's NOT supposed to cost?

    I wasn't expecting the ending to stab my heart the way it did. Just when you think you know where a book is heading...

  9. Sara Sara says:

    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.

  10. Rafa Rafa says:

    *Thanks to The Book Fairies and World of Books for a copy*

    It was such a pleasant reading! But I am not sure what to say. The ending hit me really hard..... I liked the storyline and the reflection of China at that time. I really liked how each character's story was explained individually. But most of all, I liked the writing style. Simple and heart-touching.

    This book makes me wanna stop and take a moment to ask myself one question. Am I really waiting for what I think I am waiting for?