Waiting by Ha Jin is a simple love story, yet love itself is never as simple as it seems. The novel is as a complex as it appears straight-forward and a wonderful tale set in 1980s China.
Lin Kong agreed to an arranged marriage that his parents set up when he was young but the woman that showed up on the wedding day was ragged and wrinkled, not the beauty in the photo that he’d been promised. Feeling obligated and being a good son, he married her anyway. But rural life on a farm is not the life that Lin wants so he leaves to become an army doctor and soon his meets another woman.
Of course, that alone wouldn’t make for a compelling story but the opening lines sure does:
Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife. Together they had appeared at the courthouse in Wujia Town many times, but she has always changed her mind at the last moment when the judge asked is she would accept a divorce.
As a good wife, Shuyu cared for Lin’s dying parents, works hard on the farm earning little, and raising their daughter yet Lin feels no love for Shuyu and so pursues divorce in vain with hope. He doesn’t want to remain married to a woman he doesn’t desire and believes he has no obligation to. His heart belongs to a nurse named Manna but he can only court her as a friend since the army doesn’t along any relationships besides married and engaged couples. Until the divorce is complete, Lin and Manna cannot be together.
There is a rule in the army that after 18 years, a divorce can be granted to one partner in the marriage without the say of the other. However, that means Manna has to wait for Lin since it is obvious to her that Shuyu will never give in. Waiting is difficult and her pursuits of other relationships fail, likely due to her desire to be with Lin no matter what.
18 years pass, the divorce is granted, and life and love is more complicated than ever. The future is not what any of them expected. And the waiting does not end.
The story is heart-breaking and heart-warming, a joy to read. It considers what love is but more importantly, how it affects the people in and around it. These are things that we all should consider… and then tell the ones we love that we love them.
Recommended?: Yes, mostly to adult readers since there are several sex scenes including one that’s brutal. It’s a readable, enjoyable book that will make you consider what love means, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or health.