"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 18 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 are 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 gaze 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 US 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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Beautiful and compelling" (Daily Mail
"Dreamy and beautifully written... Reading it will take you into a different world altogether" (Marie Claire
"A deliciously comic novel" (The Times
"Imagine if Romeo and Juliet had been made to stretch out their passion for 18 years, without consummating their love. Now imagine them in China during the crazy bureaucracy of Mao's Cultural Revolution, unable to talk in private let alone kiss...the insights into Chinese culture and the complexities of human longing are beautiful and compelling" (Daily Mail
"A classic folktale...an extraordinary novel" (Independent