Waiting, Ha Jin, 1999
The National Book Award Winner for fiction in 1999, this is a beautifully written, heartbreakingly sad tale of Lin Kong, a doctor in the Chinese military in 1983 looking backward and forward through his life. Kong is in an arranged marriage to a peasant woman, Shuyu who lives in his home village while he lives at the military hospital in a city. They have a daughter, Hua, and extensive family relationships. He is drawn to a nurse, Manna Wu and after failing multiple times to get a divorce, finally divorces his wife after 18 years of living separately and marries Manna who promptly has twins. Nothing really happens in this book except for Lin spending his life wondering what his life is about and where it should lead. “Life is what happens while you’re planning” comes to mind. The language is beautiful in its detailed descriptions of outdoor scenes and Lin’s infinite uncertainty and lack of focused direction fills the pages. One can’t help but be sympathetic to these characters as they live through the transition from Mao to capitalism. A beautiful cross-cultural exploration of the human condition.