Waiting: A Chevron Ross Book Review

By April 12, 2024No Comments

On its surface, Ha Jin’s novel is a love triangle. Set in Mao Zedong’s China in the 1960s and 1970s, it follows an Army doctor and nurse who cannot marry because the doctor’s wife, Shuyu, refuses to grant him a divorce. Bound by law and customs, Lin Kong travels to his wife’s village once each year to appeal to a judge. Each time he returns unsuccessful.

One of the striking elements of Waiting is how submissive the characters are to their circumstances. Unlike Westerners who are free to follow their whims, people in Maoist China accept the fact that betraying cultural customs can have devastating consequences. So they go along to get along. That’s why Lin Kong waits eighteen years for permission to divorce his wife; why Shuyu raises their daughter Hua by herself; why nurse Manna Wu, who wants him, remains an “old maid”.

The story revolves around the ways in which Lin and Manna react to this ongoing frustration. Lin, a loner until Manna entered his life, struggles with his conscience, aware that Shuyu has never been unfaithful and deserves the love he cannot give. His sense of responsibility and fear of the authorities frustrate Manna’s efforts to tempt him into an affair. Lin’s meekness and Manna’s passion keep their relationship under constant strain.

Ha Jin paints a detailed picture of life during the Cultural Revolution. Shuyu is a woman of the past, her feet bound when she was seven years old so that she can barely walk. Military officers have greater stature than doctors. Living conditions are primitive by Western standards, even in the city where Lin and Manna are stationed. Gossip is a constant threat to one’s future, so that Lin and Manna cannot even take walks together during the daytime. The bravest thing Lin does is maintain a collection of banned books in his office. The author uses these elements and more to evoke sympathy for the lovers.

Though Waiting is a well-crafted story, I was disappointed by a few instances of explicit sex, particularly a rape scene, and an equally disgusting story involving pigs. I must therefore limit my rating to four stars.

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