Monday, November 21, 2011


by Ha Jin

I probably shouldn't have read this book after finishing "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen...After reading a book about figuring out freedom isn't all it's cracked up to be, this one has the message that the thing you may be waiting for may not be what you want after all. Two kind of depressing books, read one right after the other. Huh.

Though I must say I did like "Waiting" better. Ha Jin did an excellent job in creating beautiful vistas of the Chinese countryside and city scapes. He included tiny details such as a grasshopper jumping into a quilt and the ice on the trees glinting in the sun. It was like meandering through Chinese landscapes every time I read a chapter, and I have always wanted to go to China...

It was hard for me to feel sympathetic toward anyone but Shuya and Hua. Manna seemed ok in the beginning, but she became a shrill, unhappy shrew toward the end of the book, especially after she got what she wanted. Lin just couldn't be pleased with anything, and he threw his loyal wife and daughter away for a life with Manna that didn't make him happy either. He waited and waited and waited and then didn't want what he had waited 18 years for.

As for Shuya and Hua, all they ever wanted was to spend time with Lin, though I can't imagine why. He was pretty selfish, though it may have also been the culture - the woman had to do the man's laundry and cook his meals, etc. But Shuya and Hua seemed capable of making the best out of any situation. I love the scene toward the end where Lin is peeking into their house and he sees them cooking and chatting together and having a good time without him. You go girls! Who needs men anyway?!

The other aspect of this book I appreciated was the insight into the Chinese Cultural Revolution and how it affected the people. All these laws that were written that affected the personal lives of the people, and most of them concerned with what other people will think. For example, if other people even had the tiniest notion that Lin and Manna were having an affair, neither of them would be promoted and they would be shunned by the community, and laws had been made saying they can't even be seen together outside hospital walls. It was very restrictive. It was interesting to see the culture play into the lives of Lin, Manna, and Shuya.

I picked up this book at the Boston Book Fair, after Ha Jin's panel "Truth or Consequences". Though I didn't really like the panel (Not because of Ha Jin, but because I didn't like how the moderator ran it), I thought I would give Mr. Jin a try since I like reading about other cultures and he's received awards for his work. "Waiting" was not really my cup of tea, but I may try another book of his in the near future.

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