Waiting by Ha Jin

I have other things to post, but I almost can’t wait to talk about this book! I read it sometime at the end of December during my vacation, brought over to January, so I’ll just count as my first book of 2010. And what a great start it was!

Waiting is written in English by Ha Jin, who moved to US from China in 1985. The story is of Lin Kong, an army officer in mid 1900s China, and two women in his life. One–his wife who was matched up by his parents but he never loved, lived in the village at countryside. Another is a female colleague who he falls in love, but could not marry, because his wife refuses divorce, year after year, until it goes on for 18 years.

While the concept of waiting might be foreign to our 21st century Westernized mind (who mostly also live in privileged circumstances), it is not uncommon for many Chinese stories. Waiting for the tides to turn, waiting for the wind to change, enduring, submitting to fate — it’s a very humbling thing to do if you think about it. It’s rather easy to pass judgement on why people don’t take action and do something to change their fates, but as I grow older, I find myself to be more willing to understand. After all, life is never easy, and I would never know what it feels like to live weighed down by centuries of suffocating customs.

I read this book straight after Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, so it’s hard for me not to make some comparisons. While I loved Snow Flower, there was always a feeling that it was China from the eyes of a foreigner and the characters were caricatures of Chinese people. With Waiting, the characters felt so much more real, like ordinary Chinese breathing and living somewhere. (As a note, Ha Jin was inspired to write the book by a true story that he heard about an army doctor in China who waited for 18 years to get a divorce to marry his long-time friend, a nurse. Source: Wiki)

I was expecting some sort of love story (because that’s the impression I got from the back cover and possibly some reviews), but I was getting so much more. Nothing is sugar-coated. Nothing is sweet. It’s all rather harsh reality, mixed with the complexities of human mind and reactions to bound circumstances. Really, it’s communist China around 1960s. In essence, it’s survival story. The love is not a glorified romantic thing. Chinese love is practical love.

I’m quite surprised to find that not everybody loved the book as much as I did. For me it’s such a poignant book and it speaks to me in many ways. It’s sad in a quiet way, it’s humbling, and it taught me so much about China, or to be more exact, about its people.

I highly recommend it for you who have any interest in China. I’m happy to say that I understand why Waiting has won so many awards. They can’t be more well-deserved.


1999, 308 pp

First line
Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.

Awards
1999 National Book Award for Fiction
2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Finalist of 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Challenges
China Challenge (book #3), Book Awards IV (book #1), Women Unbound (book #4): for a glimpse into women’s lives in mid to late 1900s China, Pulitzer Prizes, Reading the World

Also reviewed by
Loved it! – Regular Rumination
Liked it somewhat – mrdesAmerican Bibliophile | Reading Matters
| Book Bird Dog
Didn’t – A Striped Armchair | A Book A Week

I tried to find more reviews but there weren’t many. Let me know if you’ve posted your thoughts about it, especially if you liked it! :)

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28 thoughts on “Waiting by Ha Jin”

  1. You’ve just added another book to my go-find-and-read list. I completely understand when you say that some books sound like it’s coming from a foreigner’s perspective, and we never get to the point where we feel like we’re completely immersed in the culture of that particular country.

    I like your review. And the fact that there are contrasting reviews only makes the book more appealing right now. I should maybe try look for it during my next few library expeditions.
    .-= [Michelle (su[shu])´s last blog: [GN] Embroideries – Marjane Satrapi] =-.

    1. I’m glad you understand. It’s a bit hard to explain. In Snow Flower the story is supposed to be writing of an old woman, and in my mind I kept thinking, “Hey, she knew her diary is gonna be read by people around the world!”– there’s a lot of telling, a lot of explanation of cultural background, as if she’s telling it to people outside of China. In Waiting, there’s hardly explanation, it’s all showing, like everything is how it’s supposed to be, though we may think they’re bizarre because things are completely different with the world we live in. Do you know what I mean? That’s how I got to my conclusion.

      Contrasting reviews often intrigue me. Sometimes I even read the bad reviews first before the good ones, so I get to know why they consider it “bad”, and if the “bad things” matter to me.

  2. It’s funny but even though I haven’t yet read this book, I feel like I already love everything about it… the title, the cover, the plot and (dare I say) the characters.

    I love it more when you said this…

    “Waiting for the tides to turn, waiting for the wind to change, enduring, submitting to fate — it’s a very humbling thing to do if you think about it. It’s rather easy to pass judgement on why people don’t take action and do something to change their fates, but as I grow older, I find myself to be more willing to understand. After all, life is never easy, and I would never know what it feels like to live weighed down by centuries of suffocating customs.”

    …well observed, deftly communicated :)

    As I’ve mentioned to you before, I’m also very excited to see this as a movie. And it’s even Zhang Ziyi who’ll be portraying the nurse :)
    .-= [Mark David´s last blog: Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running] =-.

    1. You know what, that’s probably the paragraph that I was most unsure of (to keep). But I’m so happy you got me ;)

      Yes I think you mentioned the movie. I love Zhang Ziyi too, so I’m jumping up and down with excitement! I imagine that they would make the movie more romantic though.

      The title is great. Waiting here is depicted in so many layers. I love the cover too. It’s washed out, but it gives the impression of “old”. I’m a bit worried that you have high expectation of the book now. Hope you’d love it. I suspect you would.

  3. I read and wrote a review on “Waiting” too! From a guy’s perspective, I really, really felt deeply for the character “Lin Kong”, his indecisiveness, the so-called chinese taboo of “divorce”, his regret at the end…

    http://mrdes.blogspot.com/2007/10/ha-jins-waiting.html

    To think that I had bought the novel for S$4 in a second-hand book-booth…but gave it to a friend after reading.

    I was going to tell you that it was made into a movie, but I saw someone had already told you. Guess who I heard will be “Lin Kong” in the movie: Takeshi Kaneshiro (now, do I hear screaming from ladies out there?). Wow, Zhang Ziyi will portray the nurse!

    1. Can’t believe you’re still here! You haven’t left a comment for a long time ;). Thanks for the link, I’ll add it in. I probably have read your review long time ago. I don’t know why it didn’t come up on my feed search.

      Believe it or not, I bought my copy for only S$1, also at second-hand bookshop. I love the second-hand bookshops in Singapore. They’re the best!

      Oo TakeKane eeh? He’s good looking and all, but I’m not really his fan so I can keep my cool :D. A good time to watch “House of Flying Daggers”!

  4. Finally, a positive review! So many bloggers hated this book, but I still want to read it as, often, I find that non-Chinese readers often get offended or do not understand the culture in a way that a lot of Asians do, so I must take their opinions with a grain of salt. I have this on the tbr and am looking forward to reading this now that I see you loved it. Thanks!!
    .-= [claire´s last blog: The View from Castle Rock] =-.

    1. Claire– exactly my thoughts. Thanks for voicing that out. You’re so right that I should take their opinions with a grain of salt, because there’s bound to be misunderstanding. It’s such a different world. Interestingly the book won a few American awards–apparently some people got it.

      I hope you get to read it soon. Can’t wait for your thoughts!

    1. Well, I definitely didn’t come across those raving reviews! I had a hard time finding ANY reviews :P.
      If you’re used to Chinese literature, I’m sure you’re going to love this one! Maybe you can borrow it from somewhere instead of buying it :)

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