Waiting by Ha Jin

Thalia from Judging the Cover

In the first paragraphs of Waiting by Ha Jin, I was reminded of Ernest Hemingway. Jin has a spare descriptive style reminiscent of Old Man and the Sea. Unfortunately, I didn't find the story as compelling as Hemingway's masterpiece.

Lin Kong is an army doctor hoping to divorce his wife so he can marry his comrade Manna Wu. Set against decades of Chinese political turmoil, Kong struggles to do right by his wife, his daughter and his mistress. In the end, he realizes his actions had nothing to do with nobility, simply an unwillingness to take a chance.

The 1999 National Book Award Winner, Waiting is part of the Book Awards Reading Challenge. Although the book was deep from an intellectual standpoint, I didn't find the plot or the characters compelling. The Kong's inner monologues were silly and seemed forced. Show, not tell. Isn't that the first rule of writing?

This is the biggest problem I have with "award-winning" books. Too often, they sound pretty, but the substance is forced. Great books, transcending books pull you in, compel you to think, to wonder, without flashing neon lights saying: Here, look, here is the theme. Waiting reminds me of a line from Breakfast at Tiffany's: "A sterling silver telephone dialer. I certainly think it's handsome, but well, you do understand."

Strengths: Jin captures the style of Hemingway, has actually won the Hemingway award. The story is vaguely interesting from a literary perspective.

Weaknesses: Apart from pretty language, there isn't much here. It tries to be compelling and intellectual but for me, it fell short.

Verdict: Burke it. I might read something from Jin again because he writes well but Waiting left me feeling meh.

Recommended reads on China: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan.

Recommended reads on self-deception: An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.