Thursday, June 24, 2010

Waiting by Ha Jin

Catherine introduced me to Waiting by Ha Jin, and I was embarrassed that I had never heard of this award winning poet and novelist.  Chinese-American Xuěfēi Jin, who writes under the name Ha Jin,  came to Brandeis University to study English and decided to emigrate here when he watched the Tienanmen Square massacre on TV.  He writes all his books about China in English in order to preserve their integrity.  Interestingly, his name does not appear on a list of banned authors in China.

When we arrived home from China, Waiting was the first book I put on my library reserve list.  I received it the next day and was eager to begin reading the book my new reader friend had found so enjoyable.  Unfortunately, it took me awhile to become engaged.  I dragged out reading the book so long that I could no longer renew it at the library.  I had to return it and check it out again.  I am pleased to say I finally finished it and enjoyed it tremendously.  

Waiting is a love story set in a fictional city in China in the late 60's and sets about to explore many kinds of love.  Lin Kong is a doctor who was arranged to marry Shuyu as a young man.  Lin's parents needed someone to care for them and decided Shuyu would do the trick. (In China it is common for sons to care for their elderly parents.) Lin is stationed at an army outpost in the city and his bride remains in the country where he only sees her for a week every summer.  In his role as a doctor at the hospital he meets Manna Wu, a nurse, with whom he begins a friendship and falls in love. He wants to marry her but cannot get a divorce from Shuyu.  Marriage and divorce is regarded much differently in China than it is here.  Manna and Lin are in love, remain celibate, and year after year wait for the divorce so that they can marry and be open about their love.  The story spans 20 years time.

The story felt fresh and original.  The Chinese view of marriage seems so different than my Western view.  This new understanding of love and commitment is what keeps the reader riveted to the story.  Also, we wait to know will Lin and Manna wed? and what will become of Shuyu who truly loves Lin even though they have spent scant time together?  And who does Lin really love?  Or does he love anyone?  (A word of warning, there is a graphic rape scene that I had a hard time reading.)  Mr Jin has received numerous awards for this book.  He seems to have perfectly captured the Chinese worldview and presented it so that we westerners can understand and empathize.    

I am looking forward to writing Catherine to let her know I have read the book and hearing what she thinks of it all. By the way,  she did receive my copy of The Joy Luck Club so I will look forward to hearing what she thinks of it. I'll post her reactions with her permission.  Any recommends out there for love stories?

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