Waiting by Ha Jin: A Review
The past two years I have read quite a few historical fiction novels about life in China. Most that I have read took place during the foot binding ages in the 1800s and focused a lot on women’s struggles as daughters and wives. Waiting by Ha Jin was a bit of a change of pace for me, as it took place around the 1960s. The contrast between how women were treated in the 1800s to how they were treated in the late 1900s was amazing.
When women were expected to bind their feet, they were considered “goods,” not people. Their main purpose in life was to cater to their husbands and their husband’s family. They did not get to pick who they married, they could not have a career, they only raised a family. And so help them, if they did not have a baby boy, they were the devil’s spawn in their mother-in-law’s eyes.
During the late 1900s, Communism was at an all time high so women were treated significantly better. Instead of families having the control over their daughters, now the government made a lot of the shots. This is what drove the character’s personalities and life decisions in Waiting.
The plot isn’t what drives this novel as much as the character development.
*So Spoilers–Beware* 🙂
Waiting by Ha Jin would I guess be classified as a “love” story. However, the main characters never really knew love. Lin, the main character, must marry a woman to take care of his parents while he becomes a doctor. He marries a woman who’s very old school and peasant-like who he feels nothing but resentment towards. While working at a hospital, he gets to know a nurse and treats her as a girlfriend. His girlfriend wants him to divorce his peasant wife. However, China won’t permit divorces just because a marriage has no love. The word “waiting” refers to the 18 years that Lin and his girlfriend wait until China will allow him to divorce his wife. Once divorced, he marries his girlfriend and finds that maybe that wasn’t what he wanted all along.
It’s a depressing book because it causes you to reflect and examine your own feelings in relationships you’ve had. Lin talks a lot about how he wasted his life waiting on something he thought was love. He wishes he could switch lives with his newborn sons so he could start again. There is nothing more saddening than watching a person’s mediocre life play out before your eyes as they miss out on all of their potential.
It wasn’t my favorite book, as there wasn’t very much plot. And since it was such a downer, I often put the book down to my own feelings of inadequacy. The reader is forced to wait along with the characters so it took me a while to muster through it. It did however make me reflect and ask myself a lot of hard questions which is always a good quality in any book!
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