Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Judging a book by its credentials

I judged a book by its cover.

"Waiting," by Emory professor Ha Jin won a National Book Award, won the Pen/Faulkner Award and was a Pulitzer finalist.

Pun intended, but I kept waiting for it to get better, to really pull me in...

OK, so maybe I'm just disgusted by the extremly passive and inadmirable male lead character, Lin Kong, who weds a country woman through an arranged marriage then leaves her at home with the family farm and their child while he travels a distance away to work in an army hospital. There he finds a girlfriend, Manna Wu, but their relationship remains chaste because of the rules of the day. So they carry on this platonic relationship for 18 years until Lin can legally divorce his faithful country wife. Lin and Manna finally marry, but married life is terrible for them: She bears him twin sons (a relative miracle in China) and then nearly dies, causing spineless Lin to consider returning to his first family. And that's all.
In the end, he describes himself as a superfluous man. Ineffective would be the better word, I think.

However, the story of the cultural revolution and its effect on Chinese society is this detailed novel's backstory. It is beautifully told by the native Chinese author in a spare manner.

For me, the story lacked the drama and poetry of Arthur Golden, Amy Tan or Lisa See.

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