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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