Year after year Dr. Lin Kong returned to his country village from his army hospital post in the city with the intention of divorcing his wife, Shuyu. Except for the conception of their single child, Lin and his wife had no conjugal relationship. Their marriage had been arranged by Lin's parents and his wife had remained in the village and cared for Lin's parents until they died and then raised his daughter, Hua.

In the meantime, Lin had developed a relationship with a military nurse, Manna, in his hospital. Manna pressed him each summer to request a divorce from his wife; each summer he got Shuyu's consent, but she backed down when they appeared in court. Still Manna waited--for 18 years she waited for Lin to be free.

Eventually the waiting ended as the law allowed a divorce without consent after 18 years of separation. Lin moved his former wife and his daughter to the city and he married Manna. The remainder of the tale is that of the new marriage. Lin still waits for something that doesn't seem to exist. Manna also waits for a dream that doesn't materialize. Shuyu and Hua quietly wait in the background for Lin to come to his senses.


This is truly a tale about waiting--beginning in the 1960s. In the background is the scenario of the cultural revolution evolving in China and its day to day effect upon the lives of the characters. There is little about the practice of medicine or nursing as the professional lives of the characters seem to be statements of position in the place and time represented rather than issues of the nature of their work.

The patience with which the two main characters wait for each other, without truly knowing what it is they seek, is the overriding message of the novel. The outcome of the wait, something which the reader as well as Lin and Manna, have been anticipating, is both a surprise and, at some level, a lesson in profound blindness toward self.


Waiting won the 1999 National Book Award and the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award.



Place Published

New York



Page Count