Summary and book reviews of Waiting by Ha Jin

Waiting

by Ha Jin

Waiting
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  • First Published:
    Oct 1999, 308 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2000, 308 pages

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Book Summary

Ha Jin draws on his intimate knowledge of contemporary China to create a novel of unexpected richness and feeling.

In Waiting, PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author Ha Jin draws on his intimate knowledge of contemporary China to create a novel of unexpected richness and feeling. This is the story of Lin Kong, a man living in two worlds, struggling with the conflicting claims of two utterly different women as he moves through the political minefields of a society designed to regulate his every move and stifle the promptings of his innermost heart.

For more than seventeen years, this devoted and ambitious doctor has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Manna Wu. But back in the traditional world of his home village lives the wife his family chose for him when he was young--a humble and touchingly loyal woman, whom he visits in order to ask, again and again, for a divorce. In a culture in which the ancient ties of tradition and family still hold sway and where adultery discovered by the Party can ruin lives forever, Lin's passionate love is stretched ever more taut by the passing years. Every summer, his compliant wife agrees to a divorce but then backs out. This time, Lin promises, will be different.

Tracing these lives through their summer of decision and beyond, Ha Jin vividly conjures the texture of daily life in a place where the demands of human longing must contend with the weight of centuries of custom. Waiting charms and startles us with its depiction of a China that remains hidden to Western eyes even as it moves us with its piercing vision of the universal
complications of love.

Waiting won the 1999 National Book Award for Fiction.

Excerpt
Waiting

Lin Kong graduated from the military medical school toward the end of 1963 and came to Muji to work as a doctor. At that time the hospital ran a small nursing school, which offered a sixteen-month program and produced nurses for the army in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. When Manna Wu enrolled as a student in the fall of 1964, Lin was teaching a course in anatomy. She was an energetic young woman at the time, playing volleyball on the hospital team. Unlike most of her classmates who were recent middle- or high-school graduates, she had already served three years as a telephone operator in a coastal division and was older than most of them. Since over 95 percent of the students in the nursing school were female, many young officers from the units stationed in Muji City would frequent the hospital on weekends.

Most of the officers wanted to find a girlfriend or a fiancée among the students, although these young women were still soldiers and were not allowed to ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Ha Jin's novel Waiting was the winner of the 1999 winner of the National Book Award for Fiction. This quietly poignant novel of love and repression in Communist China begins in 1966 when Lin Kong, an army doctor, falls in love with the young nurse Manna Wu during a forced military march. They would like to marry, but Lin has a wife at home, in a rural village far from his army posting. His wife, Shuyu, is an illiterate peasant with bound feet, whom he was married to by arrangement so that his parents would have a daughter-in-law to care for them in old age. Each year, Lin travels back to Goose Village to divorce Shuyu in the county court; each year he is defeated, either by the judge or by the intervention of his wife's brother. Because ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review

Luminous [and] eloquent. [Waiting] provides a crash course in Chinese society during and since the Cultural Revolution, and a more leisurely but nonetheless compelling exploration of the less exotic terrain that is the human heart.

Chicago Tribune

A simple love story that transcends cultural barriers. Convincing and rich in detail, [it is] filled with an earthy poetic grace.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Achingly beautiful. Ha Jin depicts the details of social etiquette, of food, of rural family relationships and the complex yet alarmingly primitive fabric of provincial life with that absorbed passion for minutiae characteristic of Dickens and Balzac.

New York Review of Books

A high achievement indeed.

The New Yorker

[A] suspenseful and bracingly tough-minded love story. Poignantly allegorical.

Chicago Sun-Times

Extraordinary. A remarkably austere love story, suffused with irony and subtlety. Reminiscent of Hemingway in its scope, simplicity and precise language. A vivid bit of storytelling, fluid and earthy, [it is] a graceful human allegory.

New York Times Magazine

Waiting has the stripped down simplicity of a fable. It casts a spell that doesn't break once. Jin has the kind of effortless command that most writers can only dream about.

Reader Reviews

jpj

One of the best books I've read in years. Ending is fantastic. This book came out around the same time The Hours came out and I can't remember a thing about The Hours, but this book is burned into my brain.

A young man gets married in an arranged ...   Read More

VĂ©ronique from Switzerland

I just loved it! Beautiful story in a China between modern and ancient tradition. A transition of History in wich love help passing through ages.

Just read it!

Véronique from Switzerland


christina

excellent book, showing the consequences of long term waiting

Jeanne

Beautifully written story about a man who spends his life waiting for something "better" instead of appreciating what he has.

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