The Monday Book: WAITING by Ha Jin

I read this on holiday at a friend’s house, so of course I had to read quickly in order to leave it there. What struck me about the book was how it made you feel you could see inside a China that is usually invisible to guests and visitors, the one that runs on paperwork and bribes. And yet, at the same time, it made you feel like issues surrounding love and human hearts are the same the world over: when you’ve got what you want, you want something else.

WAITING is about a man in an arranged marriage to a woman from his former village. He now works as a doctor in the city, and wants to divorce her and marry a nurse from his hospital. It has elements of rural/urban divisions as well as cultural divides within China.

Some people might find this a depressing read, but I found the buoyant bits between the “well, that didn’t work” parts satisfying. Also, the prose is… stiff, but in a positive way. You don’t notice how Ha Jin writes so much as the story he is telling; the words don’t get in the way. I actually thought it had been translated at first; it had that feel, but he writes and teaches in English – in Georgia.

If Iago is your favorite Shakespearean villain, if you’re interested in other cultures, if you like to read about women’s lives in China, if you plain like good storytelling, this is a good book for you. If you like a lot of zip and action and stiff prose bothers you, you won’t like it.

I loved it, enough to stay up late and finish it the night before we flew out of our friend Jane’s place.

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