(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In its simplest terms, Waiting is the story of a love triangle. The Prologue, set in 1983, introduces the major characters and outlines their dilemma. Lin Kong, a military doctor stationed in Muji, is attempting to divorce Shuyu, the peasant wife his parents chose for him years earlier. Shuyu maintains their home in Goose Village, a place Lin visits only twelve days each year. At the hospital in Muji, he has been courting Manna Wu, a nurse. Lin believes he would be happier with this modern, sophisticated woman than he is with his illiterate wife. Unfortunately, while the Chinese communist government permits divorce, military officers must either have the consent of their spouses or remain married for eighteen years in order to obtain an uncontested divorce. For more than a decade Lin has returned home each year to ask Shuyu for a divorce. With similar consistency, Shuyu refuses, so Lin and Manna must wait until he no longer needs his wife’s consent.

The major sections of the novel highlight Lin’s passivity in dealing with his situation. Ironically, what appears to be his stoic approach to life and his wide learning have gained him great respect among the hospital staff; his stature among his peers is what initially makes him attractive to Manna, who is older than most nurses. The two maintain their chaste relationship, however, less out of a sense of moral commitment than out of fear for the consequences that could befall them if they become sexually intimate; both know their careers would be ended if they were caught. When on one occasion Manna, less inhibited than Lin, arranges for them to spend a weekend in an apartment outside the military compound, Lin refuses, largely because he does not want to risk the security of his current position.

On his trips home, Lin becomes increasingly disaffected with the squalor of the family farm. Shuyu’s bound feet are constant reminders that she is tied to China’s feudal past, not its communist future. Though he displays...

(The entire section is 818 words.)