16 March 2009

Jin, Ha. Waiting. New York: Pantheon, 1999.

A love story set in and somewhat formed by China's Cultural Revolution. Lin Kong is a man who married an unattractive woman with old-fashioned bound feet through an arranged marriage, and leaves her (and his daughter) for a military-hospital post in the city. He's there 50 weeks a year and soon falls in love with Manna, a comrade at the hospital. Every year Lin tries to go back home and divorce his wife, but each time she changes her mind at the last minute, or her brother intervenes to plead her case.

The truth of the matter is that Lin is just as complicit in each failed divorce as his wife is. Maybe more so. As the book's title suggests, indecision and uncertainty is the reigning mood here. The writing throughout is crisp and plain, like in a folk tale—which, indeed, is often what it feels like one is reading with this book. The plot is fast-paced and economic, as we have about twenty years to get through in under 350 pages, and so suddenly in Part 2 Lin's cousin comes on the scene hoping to be set up with a potential wife, and Lin asks Manna if she'd rather not wait for him and try to marry this cousin. After she agrees to meet him, the chapter ends: "So Lin planned to introduce the two in June" (109). Next chapter opens with that introduction.

Something about this economy makes the novel's sudden dips into a close, close third-person point of view seem clunky and contrived. At the moment of Lin's greatest indecision, Jin creates this voice he can "speak to" in his head, and the back-and-forth thought dialogue seems to come right out of ENGL 252.

Still and all, it's a smartly told tale. The Cultural Revolution, with its laws and customs, hovers all around the margins of the book, coming to the fore only in certain moments like Lin and Manna's eventual wedding, where the couple wear matching uniforms and bow three times to a portrait of Mao, as though he were present to sanction this marriage—which in a way he was.


Post a Comment

<< Home