Just re-read Waiting, Ha Jin’s novel of a man promising himself that someday, he will make his life right. A recent flurry of emails reminded me that the world inside the beltway (Washington, D.C.) is different than the one outside – it is more intense. You could call it focused, but maybe it’s really myopic. Waiting reminds us that ordinary people caught up in political changes – in this case China – still have personal lives that cannot be put on hold.
Ha Jin , born in Liaoning, China and a member of the Chinese liberation army during the Cultural Revolution, was a graduate student at Brandeis University when the 1989 Tiananmen incident broke out. Waiting gives us Ha Jin’s inside look at Chinese culture – contrasting roots in traditional village life with the rigid urban social system of a military doctor.
As a good Chinese son, Lin Kong took a wife who would care for his parents, while he studied to become a doctor. Years after his parents are dead, Lin still honors the marriage with annual visits to his wife, Shoyu, and each year he proposes a divorce so that he can marry Manna Wu, a nurse.
The love triangle has an unexpected twist. Only Shoyu, the arranged wife with bound feet seems to know what she wants, as the story follows Lin’s struggle to decide. Ha Jin reminds us that most people plan and wait until the time is right. In the meantime – time keeps passing and life happens – not controlled by plans.
Ha Jin’s most recent work is a collection of short stories focusing on Chinese immigrants in America – A Good Fall Stories. But if you haven’t yet read this National Book Award winner, what are you waiting for?