Books · China

Ha Jin’s Waiting

Waiting is the novel that really made Ha Jin well-known in North America. Since he wrote Waiting in 1999, which won the US National Book Award for Fiction, Chinese-born American Ha Jin has written several novels as well as his most recent book, a collection of short stories on Asian immigrants. I heard about this book back in my college days many years ago but I wasn’t too interested, however I borrowed it recently because it’s the only English-version Ha Jin book the library here carries that I haven’t read. Waiting is about an Chinese Army doctor who wants to divorce his wife after having fallen in love with a nurse in the hospital he’s based in. The catch is that to do so, his wife needs to agree in court and she is reluctant to do so, understandably. Even when he manages to get her to come with him to their village court, she’s unable to actually give her consent and the doctor usually gets a stern lecture from the judge about family values. This goes on for 18 years while the doctor’s girlfriend bears it, though not without a lot of anger and grief. While I don’t want to give away much, I’ll say the doctor isn’t as selfish or his wife as stubborn and spiteful as they seem. The prose is nice, though Ha’s Chinese background is obvious with there being some awkward grammar and a few things I would have changed if I was the editor. The story takes place in Northeast China and it does well to illustrate the nuances of Chinese society and culture, especially the values and what I would say, restrictions. However, the main theme – that of putting one’s happiness and satisfaction before other obligations, to family, society, and so on, and whether it’s worth it – is one that is probably a universal one and not something that just happens in China. It’s taken me a long time to finally read this but I’m glad.

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