Waiting – A Review of the 1999 National Book Award Winner

This novel won the National Book Award of 1999 – a personal puzzlement


The demands of human longing contend with the weight of centuries of custom in acclaimed author Ha Jin’s Waiting, a novel of unexpected richness and universal resonance. Every summer Lin Kong, a doctor in the Chinese Army, returns to his village to end his loveless marriage with the humble and touchingly loyal Shuyu. But each time Lin must return to the city to tell Manna Wu, the educated, modern nurse he loves, that they will have to postpone their engagement once again. Caught between conflicting claims of these two utterly different women and trapped by a culture in which adultery can ruin lives and careers, Lin has been waiting for eighteen years. This year, he promises, will be different.


Waiting is well titled and an amazing feat of rich descriptions sprinkled among a confusing and disquieting piece on interpersonal relationships during a most sterile time and place.

Although the setting is injected in a startlingly beautiful way, the characters are led through narration more than deep point of view, leaving the reader hungry.

Hungry for intimacy. Hungry for the internal thought and dialogue that adds such richness to modern fiction. There is a profound sadness as undercurrent, even in the most hopeful scenes. The modern reader may well find him or herself left devoid of the connection great writing can supply. Protagonist, Lin is someone we want to root for, but his own lack of deep connection to the women and family in his life leaves us dismayed–disappointed.

The moral of the story is spewed in the last few pages at an, until then, uncommon pace. Though it is a thoughtful and perhaps often occurring reality, the narrative nature of the book has cushioned the reader from caring.

A good book that could have been great.

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