Ha Jin, Waiting (Pantheon, 1999)
[originally posted 7Mar2002]
Waiting, the 1999 National Book Award winner, is something special. It is one of the first few books of what will hopefully become a renaissance in minimalist writing.
The story is nothing new; an army doctor, Lin Kong, has been separated from his wife for years. During that time, he’s met and fallen in love with a single nurse, Manna Wu. But every year, when he goes home on leave, he tries to divorce his wife and fails, for varying reasons. Will Lin ever get his wish? And if he gets it, will it be what he really wants?
I find it hard to imagine the reader who can’t find someone in this novel to identify with. Everyone’s had relationships before. Most of us have found ourselves entangled in the with-one-person-attracted-to-another net a few times. Ha Jin’s soft, unobtrusive narrative style allows us to get to know the characters, giving us a leisurely pace and spicing the drama with gentle humor now and again.
The book’s only real downfall is in that pace. Being able to read more than one book at a time is a boon where Waiting is concerned; this is a book that demands to be put down every couple of chapters and absorbed, rather than to be read all at one sitting. Switching off between Waiting and something less cerebral may be the way to go with this one, if you’re not the most patient of readers. One way or the other, though, Waiting is highly recommended all around. ****