Waiting by Ha Jin.
Waiting is a novel that tells a story of love, patience and unfulfilled desires. It was written by a Chinese author, Ha Jin, in the year 2000. It is a captivating novel that leaves the characters in anticipation. The reader too is left waiting for a moment that at least one of the characters will be satisfied, but this does not happen.
Waiting revolves around Lin Kong, who is a 27-year-old student working as a military doctor in the Chinese city, Muji (Jin, 2000). The book begins with a prologue that takes us to 1983. Lin Kong has gone to the Goose village intending to divorce his wife Shuyu. Lin and Shuyu have been married for twenty years. This has become a habit because he goes to the village every year asking for a divorce, which he never gets. Shuyu usually agrees but when they get to court, she says that she changed her mind.
In 1962, Lin Kong agreed to an arranged marriage by his parents. They had been putting him under a lot of pressure, and the fact that they are ailing made him give in to their demands. He returns from his medical work in the city to meet the girl he is to marry but he is shocked. The girl named Shuyu is nothing of what he expected. Lin finds her unappealing and says she looks much older than him though she is a year younger than him. In the remote village, Shuyu’s bound feet are acceptable according to customs, but this is unacceptable in the city. He is very disappointed and his friends ridicule and laugh at him. He implores his parents to let him break their engagement but they are adamant about his marriage to the girl. He marries Shuyu but admits that he does not love her.
Lin Kong is embarrassed by his wife and denies her any opportunity of visiting him in the city. He too rarely goes to visit her in the village. According to Jin (2000), he sees her only ten days in a year, during his summer leave. After three years of marriage, Shuyu gets pregnant and gives birth to their daughter, Hua. After the birth of Hua, Lin decides to abstain from any sexual relations with his wife. Shuyu is disappointed but stays faithful, caring and submissive to her husband. She takes care of his ailing parents and their daughter. As for Lin, he treats her as though she is a relative, without any resentment, but with no tender feelings towards her.
In 1964, a student named Manna Wu arrives at the hospital where Lin works. At first, Manna gets involved with a lieutenant, Mai Dong. She says she loves him but proves hesitant when he proposes marriage. Manna seeks advice from Lin who is her teacher at the time. Lin encourages her to take her time, since that is not the appropriate time for marriage. Manna promises to marry him after her graduation.
Mai Dong is later transferred to another city, which is far away from Manna’s school. He later breaks their relationship saying that he is going to marry his cousin. This leaves Manna brokenhearted and she fears that, she will never get married. After this incident, Manna’s friendship with Lin grows stronger. She borrows books from him and he helps her with schoolwork.
In 1966, the hospital personnel go for a training exercise where they treat the wounded at the battlefield. This exercise is strenuous and Manna develops blisters on her feet. She can hardly walk. Lin comes to her rescue; he takes care of her until her feet are healed. This strengthens the bond between them. However, Manna knows that she should keep the relationship professional. Despite this, she feels jealous when she sees Lin in the company of the hospital librarian. She wants to get the attention of Lin.
This makes her to invite Lin, to an opera later that evening, though anonymously. They sit together and Manna gives him a sign of her feelings by placing her hand on top of his. This is the beginning of their affair and soon they begin meeting frequently. Everyone in the hospital begin to talk about them because they know Lin is married. They are warned by the vice-director of the hospital and Lin decides to tell her that they cannot be together. This is a disappointment to Manna. She finds a photo of Lin’s wife Shuyu and mocks him about her appearance. Manna wants to sleep with Lin but he refuses terming it as too risky. His decision haunts him even in his dreams and he decides to tell Manna that he loves her.
Lin Kong decides to divorce his wife though he feels guilty doing so. Manna has already started giving him signs that if he does not leave Shuyu, she will leave him. This is what makes him go to the village to ask Shuyu for a divorce. As explained in the prologue, she agrees to it but when they get to court, she changes her mind. This goes on for many years and Lin decides to use the law that says that if a man stays for eighteen years without sexual relations, he may divorce her with or without her consent (Jin, 2000).
In 1984, the waiting is over and they finally get divorced. Lin marries Manna who gets pregnant and later gives birth to twins. Shuyu stays with Lin’s daughter Hua but does not give up hope that Lin will come back to her. The biggest problem is that after marrying Manna, Lin Kong is not satisfied. He finds their relationship repelling and he longs for Shuyu. The novel leaves the reader wondering what really, is Lin’s desire. This novel gives us an experience of Lin Kong’s life and the relationships that surround his life. He is so uncertain of what decisions to make in the problems that face him.
One of the major themes that is brought out in this story is conflict. Lin’s life is filled with conflict that comes from within him. Firstly, he marries a girl who is not his choice. He wants to break the engagement but pressure from his parents makes him continue with the marriage. He is battling with himself on what to do, but he chooses to follow the decision of his parents rather than his. Secondly, when he discovers that he has feelings for Manna, he tries to suppress them due to the gossip from his workmates. He even tells Manna that he loves her but they cannot be together.
Lin is a man in a lot of turmoil because he is not ready to make independent decisions and stand by them. When Manna starts to pressure him to divorce Shuyu, he somehow feels sad about leaving her. It seems like he is still attached to her emotionally. He feels guilty on divorcing her. The decision is only made due to the pressure from Manna. Lin Kong is a very indecisive man. He is never certain of what is best for him; rather he follows the wishes of the people around him. His heart is in conflict on whether he really loves Manna and whether to marry her or not, but she keeps on threatening her that she will leave. This is what makes him wait for so long to divorce Shuyu.
This kind of conflict leaves the reader with many questions. One wonders, if Lin had made up his mind and followed his own decisions from the start, maybe he would have found happiness. If he did not solely and chiefly depend on other people’s desires, maybe his life would have been much easier.
In this book, patience or long-suffering is a theme by itself. Lin has been waiting for eighteen years to divorce his wife. This means that he has been waiting for that long to find happiness. He gets what he wants by marrying Manna but he is unhappy. This means that the waiting goes on throughout his life. The people in his life also undergo long-suffering. Manna has to wait for many years, for Lin to divorce his wife so that they can get married. Shuyu has been waiting for love from her husband for many years, which she never gets. She refuses to divorce him hoping that he will love her eventually. By the end of the book, she is still waiting and hoping that he will come back to her. The waiting is endless in this novel; they all wait for happiness, which they never find.
Jin, H. (2000). Waiting. Logan, IA: Perfection Learning.