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Waiting Paperback – 5 Oct 2000
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"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)
The winner of the 1999 US National Book Award for Fiction, a poignant and deliciously funny love story, set in China during and after the Cultural Revolution.See all Product description
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strength of someone else's recommendation. I big mistake buying books according to another person's preference
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".
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.
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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