Front cover of first edition
|1 October 1999|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3560.I6 W34 1999|
Waiting is a 1999 novel by Chinese-American author Ha Jin which won the National Book Award that year. It is based on a true story that Jin heard from his wife when they were visiting her family at an army hospital in China. At the hospital was an army doctor who had waited eighteen years to get a divorce so he could marry his longtime friend, a nurse.
The plot revolves around the fortunes of three people: Lin Kong, the army doctor; his wife Shuyu, whom he has never loved; and his girlfriend at the hospital where he works, the nurse Manna Wu. Beginning in 1963 and stretching over a twenty-year period, Waiting is set against the background of a changing Chinese society. It contrasts city and country life and shows the restrictions on individual freedoms that are a routine part of life under communism. But Waiting is primarily a novel of character. It presents a portrait of a decent but deeply flawed man, Lin Kong, whose life is spoiled by his inability to experience strong emotions and to love wholeheartedly.
Army doctor Lin Kong married his wife, Shuyu, as decided by his parents. While Lin spent most of his of time away from home for his job, Shuyu raised their daughter and cared for both Lin's dying mother and father. Lin feels no love for her, and once he meets Manna Wu, a nurse at the hospital, he falls in love with her and feels that he must divorce his wife. Year after year, Lin tries to divorce the woman he is embarrassed to be married to, and every year when he comes home for a few days during the holidays, he goes with her to the courthouse, and she agrees that she will consent to the divorce. But each time, once they arrive at the courthouse, she does not consent. The "Waiting" of the title refers to Lin's waiting to divorce Shuyu so he can be with Manna.
He finally succeeds in divorcing Shuyu, thanks to a law that states that, if a man and wife have been separate for 18 years, the man can divorce her without her consent. Once finally with Manna, however, he feels unhappy with her as well, feeling no love, and the book ends on a dark note. Lin seems to always love the one he doesn't have.
Waiting won both the National Book Award for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award, was a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, and has been enjoyed for its insights into the life in communist China.