Waiting by Ha Jin: 11/8/07

Waiting Waiting
A Novel by Ha Jin

17 of us met to talk about Ha Jin’s book, and most comments were very positive. I was not so enthusiastic about it, however, which may explain the ridiculously long time it’s taken me to post this summary!

Many in the group were fascinated to read about life in China during the Cultural Revolution. In Never Let Me Go the protagonist’s passivity drove people crazy, but in the case of Lin Kong, it seemed to make sense, given the power of centralized political, economic and social control in China at the time. We struggle to imagine living in a place with strict rules governing every aspect of our existence, from our job assignment to which people we are allowed to walk with and where.

Our group generally empathized with Lin’s disappointment with his situation and with himself. We noted that his gentlemanly behavior poorly hides his fear and selfishness. At the same time that he is trying to get along well with everyone, he is causing great pain to the most important women in his life.

J told us about the interview with Ha Jin she heard on the radio that very morning, and talked about the culture of shame to which Lin belongs, where the power of other people’s opinions can be crushing.

JS pointed out that the story can be seen as a tale of urban versus rural cultures. To be from the country seems so shameful to the urban educated Lin. But his ex-wife Shuyu – illiterate, with tiny bound feet – is the one who is able to adapt well to life in the city when she finally gets there, and she’s the one who knows how to treat his new wife’s seriously ill babies. In the end, Shuyu strikes us as the strongest character, even though she also seems the most subservient.

Shuyu went through years of pain to have her feet bound, creating perfection to be shown only to her husband, only to have him refuse to look at them. She gathered the courage to offer herself to him so that she could give him a son, only to have him send her back to her own bed.

Speaking of beds, TL wondered about the brick beds they slept on. Turns out they’re known as Kang, and they are heated from underneath!

As CS said, the book raises many questions. For us these include: What does it mean that the one violent and ruthless character is the one who achieves fame and riches? How could Lin have so little insight into himself? Does he really learn to appreciate Shuyu or is he just in love with waiting and yearning for the greener grass on the other side of the fence? Are we also sometimes in love with waiting? Why wasn’t Lin able to try bringing Shuyu along with him, teaching her to read and to live in the city? And JW wants to know what about all the insects flapping around the characters in this story?

Ha Jin
Ha Jin Interview with Ha Jin
Review of Waiting
  For more articles on Ha Jin and his books, tryInfotrac Onefile, available at the library,or from home (with a Minuteman Library Network card).
*Wikipedia on Ha Jin  
*Other Books by Ha Jin
*New book released October 30, 2007: A Free Life


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Never Let Me Go: 10/11/07

Never Let Me Go Never Let Me Go
A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

Most of us had a hard time getting through this book. In fact, a few people gave up on it all together — but being true book lovers, they came to join in the discussion all the same. Even those who admired Ishiguro’s writing found the narrator’s evasiveness and passivity irritating.

CD complained that the book requires a passive reader. Some asked why the characters never tried to escape once they understood what was in store for them. Some found the question of science getting ahead of ethics a worthwhile one, but were frustrated that the author didn’t take a clearer stand.

DV pointed out that the story can also be about the ways we are capable of dehumanizing and using others – especially those at a distance, like the workers who make our inexpensive clothes or the farmworkers in the fields.

In some ways, Kathy and the other characters are facing a more extreme version of our own situation. Our time is limited: what will we do with it? Some accept whatever they’re handed, some struggle for change, but none live forever.

Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro Interview with Ishiguro from NPR
Reviews of Never Let Me Go
  For more articles on Ishiguro and his books, try Infotrac Onefile, available at the library, or from home (with a Minuteman Library Network card).
More on Never Let Me Go:  
  Video Interview with Ishiguro from publisher Faber & Faber
  A Review by Margaret Atwood
  Satire from The Guardian