Lin Kong, a Chinese doctor at an army hospital, has been waiting to divorce his wife Shuyu and marry his girlfriend Manna Wu for eighteen years. Despite his pleas and their trips to the courthouse, Shuyu never agreed. After eighteen years, Lin can divorce her without her consent and marry Manna, who has been patiently waiting for him. This novel weaves a path through strict Communist Chinese culture while telling a story of love that is universal in scope.
This book has been on my radar for some time now, as it sounds just like my type of book. A simple love story, an essential piece of modern history, an exercise in atmosphere and character. It succeeds as all of those things. Lin struggles most with never making his own choices. He did not choose to marry Shuyu; she was chosen for him when his mother became old and ill. He did not choose his career. In a sense, this is not really his story, but rather a story of the currents around him moving him in specified directions. He is caught between women, caught in expectations, and trapped in a culture that doesn’t allow him to explore what he actually feels.
The women of the story are the most interesting. Determined, patient, but unhappy Manna dominates the book. I felt alternately sorry for her and frustrated with her. Lin’s wife Shuyu is also patient, but she is also hard-working and never complains. Oddly enough, I felt the most for her. What must it be like to do all of a husband’s “dirty work” only to see him one week per year and have him attempt to divorce her every single time? And still love him? I do not know and I would not like to know. I liked her and their daughter Hua the best.
Many of the other reviewers report being dissatisfied with the ending. I wasn’t. I felt that it was coming, in fact; just a reflection of the deeper conflict going on inside Lin’s head, and surprisingly suitable for this weak-willed man.
I think I’d recommend this to someone looking for a portrait of the human heart. These characters have faults just like us, and their romantic experiences are universal, which makes it interesting to see them through the eyes of a Communist culture. It’s not my favorite book, but I can tell it’s one that I will enjoy pondering for some time to come. Buy this book on Amazon.