Tuesday, November 15, 2005

WAITING

Waiting, by Ha Jin, Random House, Inc, 1999, 308pp

I've had this book on my shelf for a while. It won an NBA and a PEN/Faulkner award, so I had high expectations which unfortunately were not met.

The story is set in 1960s-1980s China, which is post-revolutionary Red China. Lin Kong is a doctor in an army hospital. He is married to a woman he does not love. The marriage was arranged by his parents and his wife remains in the small village where Lin Kong was raised along with their daughter. Every summer for 20 years, he goes to the village during his annual leave from the hospital, which is in a nearby city, and tries to get a divorce from his wife. Every year she says she will permit the divorce but when they get to the court she changes her mind.

There is another woman, a nurse at the hospital, whom he wishes to marry. She waits throughout the 20 years. Morality is very strict under the Communist regime and they have no physical relationship. This situation goes on for a good two thirds of the book, so the reader is waiting as well and yes, that is as uneventful as it sounds. Neither Lin Kong nor his lover are particularly likeable characters and their affair is rather pedestrian.

Finally the divorce is granted, the frustrated lovers marry and then their troubles really begin.
They have a child, the new wife becomes clingy and neurotic and Lin Kong, after all these years, doesn't really have the knack of being a husband. He had moved the ex-wife to the city after the divorce which leads to an ironic ending that is actually quite good but geez, I waited 300 pages for that?

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