Review: Waiting, by Ha Jin

Also on Krissy’s list of recommended books about China: Waiting by Ha Jin.

What I liked about it:

  • This book went a long way to helping me understand what life has been like for the Chinese. The title could not be more accurate… life in China for the last fifty years has been a lot of patient waiting… waiting for something better to come along, for someone else to figure out whether traditional values or the party would win out,  for the government to actually recognize its people as individuals, for reform to catch up to the needs of your personal life hopefully in your lifetime, for a better promotion to maybe or maybe not come your way, for a party official to decide to make you his wife–or not, for the leaders in power to die off, or for 18 years to pass so you can marry your first love.
  • Patiently plodding through this rather slow moving book made me really realize how big of a luxury all the immediate gratification we have in the States is. In every way, but especially as related to the main storyline in this book: being able to decide whom to marry.
  • Lin Kong is a man who has always tried to do the right thing. First he followed the wish of his dying mother and married the wife she had arranged for him. But being a Doctor in the People’s Liberation Army meant he only went back to see his country bumpkin wife with bound feet once a year. He falls in love with another woman, a nurse named Manna, in a forced military march. For 18 years they never touch one another, but Lin returns to his country wife every summer to attempt to divorce her. Communist law states that an officer can’t divorce his wife without her consent for a period of 18 years. And so an entire lifetime goes by wasted as Manna and Lin wait to be together… not to mention Lin’s wife who raises his daughter and suffers quietly.
  • Jin is not a native English speaker; he served six years in the People’s Liberation Army, and came to the U.S. in 1985. It is astounding to me that he could write such a beautiful novel. The pacing and the feeling as you move through the book, coupled with the deep character development and great use of irony make reading this book a really transcendent experience. I couldn’t put it down, even though it was slow at times. It was like a long, bittersweet reflection.

What I didn’t like about it:

  • The only things I didn’t like about this book are what I did like about it, namely that it is a bit slow and quite depressing.

In Short: 4 stars. Not only do you start to really understand what life in these changing times has been like for China, but you learn a lot about what really motivates and drives the human heart everywhere.

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2 responses to “Review: Waiting, by Ha Jin

  1. You and I appreciated the same things about this book. Isn’t it amazing how people like Ha Jin and Joseph Conrad can learn a language as adults and then use it more artfully than most of its native speakers?

    • Krissy, I’m glad we agreed on the book. I can’t thank you enough for that list of books–it’s been so great! It is absolutely amazing that people can write that well in their non-native tongue.

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