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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Questions the very essence of who we are and what we become.
In this highly structured novel of life within the Chinese People's Liberation Army and in the very rural countryside, Ha Jin offers the reader a way to understand the culture and character of people living under repressive conditions. To Lin Kong, his wife Shuyu, and his chaste lover Manna Wu, life is a process of acceptance, not choice, a life in which there are no...
Published on 19 Jan. 2003 by Mary Whipple

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2.0 out of 5 stars Waiting, not worth it.
Ha Jin has a pleasant turn of phrase, but that is not going to keep you warm while you attempt to get through this story. There are lots of sentences that evoke the village and urban life of the Chinese in the 60s, which is great for a while, but meh. The main character Lin is a guy who for a good chunk of the novel is trying to divorce his embarrassing peasant wife. At...
Published 5 months ago by MzBookMuncher


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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Questions the very essence of who we are and what we become., 19 Jan. 2003
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
In this highly structured novel of life within the Chinese People's Liberation Army and in the very rural countryside, Ha Jin offers the reader a way to understand the culture and character of people living under repressive conditions. To Lin Kong, his wife Shuyu, and his chaste lover Manna Wu, life is a process of acceptance, not choice, a life in which there are no personal goals, other than working for the greater good of the country and its leaders. Because the concept of freedom simply does not exist here, it never enters anyone's mind. No one feels its loss or yearns for it, and an individual seeks neither happiness nor pleasure, instead finding satisfaction within the system.
Lin Kong, a physician working eleven months of the year in Muji City while his wife works the farm in Goose Village, experiences the sensations of love for the first time when he is attracted to Manna Wu, a nurse at his army station. Having previously accepted an arranged marriage, he is the legal husband of an older woman whose only attraction has been the care she lavished on his sick and elderly parents. For eighteen years he endures the limbo of trying to obtain a divorce from his wife while obeying the army's requirements that he and Manna Wu remain physically chaste.
Ha Jin's prose is efficient and straightforward, much like the life of his characters, and one neither expects nor misses the flights of poesy so often found in novels of China written by westerners. The chief attraction of this novel is the care with which Ha Jin recreates the atmosphere of life in Communist China, showing us how ordinary people conduct their lives under conditions which we would find intolerable. His careful choice of details to illuminate the ironies of his characters' lives give power to a narrative about people who have no individual power. He succeeds admirably in bringing to life characters whose whole concept of what it means to be a person is diametrically opposed to our own, making humans out of people who live lives of structure, not of choice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bitter Love, 16 Jan. 2013
By 
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
Ha Chin's novel "Waiting" is set in China during the Cultural Revolution of the late twentieth century. The three main characters are Lin Kong, a doctor in the Chinese Army, Shuyu, his wife through an arranged marriage and the product of a traditionalist upbringing (i.e. with bound feet) and Mannu Wu an educated, mordern nurse that Lin plans to marry. Under military law, Lin must wait 18 years before he may secure a divorce without the consent of his wife.
The story operates on multiple levels. It is in part a story which explores the nature of love -- what does it mean to love someone and how does one know when he or she is in love? The story also works as a political allegory of the Communist regime in China. Closely related to the latter, it is a fable about a traditional way of life coming into contact with modernity and industrialisation (communist or not).

On all levels, the story shows the ambiguity of the human heart and the difficulty of self-knowledge. These are basic difficulties in being human. Recognition of these dificulties is basic to human love, politics and change. The story shows both how hard it is for people to know their own hearts and also how difficult it is to pursue any ends without bringing, in some way, harm to another person.

The story is told in an eloquent, minimalist prose. The writing is simple and beautiful. The primary characters and a host of secondary characters are well, if suggestively and sparely, presented and developed.

This book reminded me of another highly acclaimed novel: J,M. Coetzee's "Disgrace". Both "Disgrace" and "Waiting" are written in a restrained prose. Both are about repressive political societies (South Africa and China) in an uncertain state of transition. And both present situations fraught with moral ambiguity which seem to point beyond themselves for understanding.

This book tells a thoughtful and sad story about what a party leader accurately describes at an important moment of story as "a bitter love".

Robin Friedman
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ultra-realist look at love in communist China, 10 Jun. 2000
By 
This review is from: Waiting (Hardcover)
The Peoples Republic of China may once have been chic to Western eyes, but it has never been sexy. The prudish, hectoring tone of its public discourse and the glassy blandness of its iconography meant that hanky panky of any kind was seen as a "reactionary" evil, swept away along with opium smoking, landlordism and foot binding. Somehow the Chinese population kept rising, but there was no room for public sensuality. The comrades' hatred of sex was, of course, entirely hypocritical. Eight or so years ago, Mao's doctor spilled the beans on the green-toothed Chairman's own sordid appetites. It suggested that far from being all politics as was pretended, politics was something he did in breaks from orgiastic romps with young peasant girls. How regrettable it is, given the disastrous effects of his ideas, that he needed to take breaks at all. Echoes of an equally strong, though more repressed Chinese sexuality are constantly present throughout Waiting, a moving and multi-layered novel by exiled poet and academic Ha Jin, which integrates an naturalistically dowdy tale of love against the odds through the lens of modern China's political convolutions. It may well be the great modern Chinese novel; a triumph of unsolemn and quietly comic social realism on a par with Zhang Yimou's 1992 The Story of Qiu Ju. Like that film, Ha's novel (this year's winner of the US National Book Award for fiction) examines what happens when private passions come into conflict with the public obligations of a collectivist society, a crushing contradiction that Waiting treats with a seething under-the-surface anger. As well as scoring against corruption and exploitation of political terminology, the author is not too refined to eschew the comedy of the dirt poor countryside - farmers sewing up pigs anuses to increase their market weight etc - but his limpid English prose style does not revel in this element. Also, his writing is free of the self-conscious sing-song quality of much Chinese writing in translation. Lin Kong is an Army doctor, whose marries an uneducated peasant woman under parental pressure, and spends 18 years trying to divorce her to marry the love of his life, a bright nurse at the army hospital where he works. Not only do the local authorities frown on extra-marital relationships, but the first wife herself is pathetically devoted to her husband, and keeps refusing to go through with it. The central characters are deftly drawn; Lin Kong, a dutiful, confused everyman overwhelmed by circumstances, his frustrated lover Manna Wu, who has to brave the ridicule and inconvenience of being permanently engaged, with none of the status or satisfactions of being a wife or a mistress. Between the lines, Ha Jin is considering the suppression of human freedom caused by the application of a theoretical template on the infinitely varieties of human behaviour. There are also the injustices that flourish in the cracks of the system, where knowledge of how to manipulate political processes can allow the worst kind of people to prosper and, in the novel's most harrowing scene, to commit rape and intimidation with impunity. To touch on political implications makes Waiting sound like an exile's hate letter home. Not so: it is a brilliantly synthesized fiction, in which the highest priority is on making the three main characters live. That you can also get a social history of the Peoples Republic is pure bonus on top of a bittersweet love story that tastes of what Chinese life is really like, from the way friends talk to each other to the quality of the litter on the ground.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book detailing a relationship changing over time, 11 Nov. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
Waiting is a captivating read. It details the changing phases of a forbidden and unconsumated love affair over almost 2 decades. Over time the centre of the relationship becomes the waiting rather than their love which leads to a hollow and empty union. The details of Chinese culture are fascinating and unforced.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A man who comes to know himself, 8 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
I have known people who strive to do right at all costs even though they lack the confidence and self-knowledge to deal with moral dilemmas. Lin is such a person, and his character is thrown into relief by the disregard of the political system of his time and place for individuals in all their messy glory.

The two main dilemmas in Lin's life are closely connected: his extreme and protracted reluctance to hurt his wife (and be mocked by their home community) by divorcing her despite never having loved her, and his extreme and protracted reluctance to respond to the advances of his girlfriend which would flout the rules and possibly the respect of their medical community.

Lin strives to understand the two women and his responses to them, and knows himself better by the end of the book. One hopes he will go on to lead a more fulfilled life.

The characters of the two women are less clearly drawn. His wife, Shuyu, is described rather than explained, and one wants to know more about her. His girlfriend, Manna Wu, though her character in the later chapters is consistent with her younger self, seems to change rapidly at the end without quite enough explanation. Having said this, I enjoyed and was deeply impressed with the subtleties of the interaction between the characters and their circumstances up until this point. Sustaining the interest of the reader through a simple plot of such length is an amazing achievement. I couldn't put the book down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Above all, a most evocative (if thinly disguised) pocketbook introduction to Chinese society and culture in the . . ., 25 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
I don't know what happens with this book. It reads fine three quarters in, and then the last quarter implodes the whole thing with too much explanation. The better part has subtlety and restraint going for it, and the scenes and events seem hand-picked to maximize the charm of the Chinese culture and social realities of the Maoist and post-Maoist eras (up to the early 1980s, when the author himself leaves China for the US) for the Western reader.

The characters are written as social types, and their individualization goes only so far, but this is by no means a shortcoming, since there are a good number of life situations that make for a nice fleshing-out of the characters and invite further reflection. When all this restraint goes to the dogs towards the end, and the book veers towards psychological descriptions developed around stock situations rather than the very evocative (if also rather representative of the times) situations in the better part of the novel, we are left with characters which all of a sudden seem like stick figures. Only Shuyu emerges with depth out of all this, and I feel this is precisely because of the restraint with which she is described up until the end, where Lin and Manna almost become caricatures of themselves.

So the end fails because all of a sudden restraint is abandoned and the novel changes from a realist psychological one, with a good number of powerful little scenes, to an explicitly psychological one which takes the perspective of Lin too closely. It's an approach which can't find its feet, mainly because of the one-sided character development which undermines the careful construction of well-rounded social types in the better part of the novel.

Still, the book is a winner, despite its lackluster treatment towards the end. It's a winner for being, above all, a most evocative (if thinly disguised) pocketbook introduction to Chinese society and culture in the sixties, seventies, and early eighties. It's also worth a read for the insights into human psychology unfurled against this background of societal policy and realities, insights furthered through recourse to Chinese sayings and powerful little stories within the larger story of Lin, Shuyu and Manna.

I give it 3.8 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Patience rewarded, 1 Aug. 2011
By 
reader 451 - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
Ha Jin's Waiting essentially illustrates the saying that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Its main protagonist, Lin Kong, has entered into an arranged marriage to please his parents. Having left his home village in favour of the urban world and risen through the ranks as an army doctor, he now wishes to divorce his wife Shuyu so that he can marry the woman of his dreams, Manna Wu. But both traditional peasant China and the communist system have their norms, and the divorce procedure, repeated year after year, is somehow frustrated time and time again. Meanwhile, Wu and Kong's feats of abstinence only work to heighten their expectations, raising the risk of disillusionment.

Shuyu is an illiterate peasant whose feat were bound in her youth and who is entirely devoted to Lin Kong. Manna Wu, a nurse, is both forbidden fruit and soul-mate. Waiting is a subtle and well-pace piece of psychological drama. Spanning several decades, it also provides a glimpse into the changing Chinese mores of early Maoism, the Cultural Revolution, and the 1980s market transition. And though Ha Jin is a Chinese-American author who writes only in English, he lived in China until 1984 and knows what he is writing about. This is well worth waiting through.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Waiting, not worth it., 3 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Waiting (Kindle Edition)
Ha Jin has a pleasant turn of phrase, but that is not going to keep you warm while you attempt to get through this story. There are lots of sentences that evoke the village and urban life of the Chinese in the 60s, which is great for a while, but meh. The main character Lin is a guy who for a good chunk of the novel is trying to divorce his embarrassing peasant wife. At first you feel sympathy for him because it was an arranged marriage, but as the book progresses (through treacle - the only saving grace being it's not complicated) you begin to see that he is a complete drip that I ended up kind of hating.

**********************SPOILERS******************

When his second wife is giving birth and shouting at him, we get pages of him sitting outside smoking a cigarette and feeling very blue about it. The woman is having a baby! Get a grip!.

And when he waits for his wife to let him divorce her and finally marries another woman, Manna Wu, he realises that he doesn't actually love Manna Wu, but it's OK, because she conveniently develops a heart condition that leaves her at death's door, leaving Lin to go back to the wife he said he hated for eighteen years and ask her if he can go and live with her when Manna Wu dies. Maybe people like this actually exist or existed, but I sure regret having to read about it in this book.

One last thing, ******SPOILER********* can anyone tell me why it was necessary for Manna Wu to be raped as a virgin and then to have recovered by drinking herbal tea? Someone should have called the author out on that or made it more relevant to the story. Odd and gratuitous.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful love story, 9 Dec. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
I thought this was going to be too slow for me as a reader of mostly crime and thrillers,but what unfolded was one of the most beautiful love stories set in the amazing chinese culture that I became captivated and read and readit was slow moving ,sensitive and drew the reader into another world. Iwould thoroughly recommend reading this.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tear-inducing tale exploring deep human emotions, 12 Dec. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Waiting (Paperback)
I found this book very difficult to put down. From the first page, we are coaxed into understanding the characters and realising why they have no choice but to wait helplessly for each other as they do. The society that is presented in the book is worlds away form the one that we know and yet we grow so familiar with it, we are aware of it's constraints and of the effects they have on the characters. Ha Jin displays a very true and heartfelt understanding of the way the human heart (and mind) works. It is a story that stays with you long after you finish reading it.
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