Waiting by Ha Jin - Book Review
Waiting by Ha Jin – Book Review.
Lin Hong, a gentleman, is a doctor, who now works in the hospital in the city. He loves Manna Wu, but he can’t marry her, they can’t have children, because a while ago as a young man he pleased his parents by marrying Shuyu in the rural county from which he comes. They produced a daughter, but there is little else to bind them together.
Now Lin doesn’t see his girl or his wife often, his life and future are firmly bound up in the city, with Manna Wu.
Every year he returns home to petition for divorce, but divorce in communist China is not an easy thing to achieve. For a start he needs his wife’s agreement for that, and every year the timid Shuyu agrees before they enter court, but egged on by her manipulative brother, changes her mind once before the magistrate.
This continues for years, eighteen long and frustrating years, during which Manna Wu will not allow her relationship with Lin to be consummated. That wouldn’t be right. People would talk; the Party would not like it. They would get into trouble, she might be banished, and here is nothing like keeping your man waiting!
Time is slipping by. Their lives are passing by. They are growing old.
And all this is happening to the backdrop of a China going through monumental changes, from the era of the revolutionary Red Guards when anyone with any influence in any field is fair game for mockery and abuse, and far worse besides. Through to the Mao Zedong era, and slowly into a more enlightened time when once again people are permitted to dance, to listen to music, to start a small business, to sell things, and even, God forbid, to read novels, those terrible bourgeois meaningless luxuries once outlawed and vilified and burned.
Lin is a keen reader, though he doesn’t broadcast the fact. He has his own small library, including some novels by the Russian masters, and even a poetry book by Walt Whitman. They have to be covered in brown paper, disguised from prying eyes, for discovery would not go well for Lin.
“Waiting” inevitably covers a wide period of time. The story meanders along, but never drags. It holds the reader from several standpoints. It is a love story, a family saga, a political lesson, a record of a country in turmoil, and most of all, a thoroughly good read. The descriptive narrative of the times are particularly evocative.
Some of the American English translation can grate on the English ear. “She dove in the water” just one example, but that aside, this is a fascinating book, warm and tender, and one that I can highly recommend.
The writer, Ha Jin, is also I discover a gentlemen; whereas before I was aware of that small fact I was convinced this book was written by a woman. If you are looking for something a little different, something that is easy to read with a story that will hold you from beginning to end, then Ha Jin’s Waiting could be just the thing for you. Check it out!
It comes as no surprise to me to see that this book has been critically acclaimed from London to Chicago and all stations in between. Well worth the time and effort spent in seeking it out.
Here are some young guys (and girls) discussing this book and I enjoyed their video too.
It was nice to get a different perspective from a different generation.
And it comes as no surprise to me to see that this fine book has been made into a feature film -
a picture I look forward to seeing, but in the meantime here is the official trailer for the film.