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A kind of Chinese Dr. Zhivago about a married army doctor who falls in love with a nurse during the Cultural Revolution, by Chinese exile Ha Jin (In the Pond, 1998, etc.). Starred-crossed lovers are the meat of tragedy the world over, and when political upheaval is thrown into the same pot, you—re almost guaranteed a pretty substantial stew. The focus of misery here is Lin Kong, a Chinese physician who serves as an officer in the Revolutionary Army. While a medical student in the early 1960s, Lin is pressured into an arranged marriage by his elderly parents, who choose Shuyu, an illiterate village girl who’s as plain as she is good-natured and who devotes herself wholeheartedly to providing every possible comfort for Lin and his parents. From the very start, Lin’s heart is never in the marriage, and after the birth of their only child, Lin and Shuyu sleep apart. The situation is helped somewhat by Lin’s army career, which keeps him posted at great distances from home and allows him only 12 days furlough a year. Eventually, though, the charade wears thin. Lin has fallen in love with Manna Wu, a nurse assigned to his hospital, and the two wish to marry. But for that a divorce is necessary, and divorce is the one request that Shuyu doesn—t want to grant her husband. Even if she did, the Court probably would not comply’since divorce is looked upon with deep suspicion by Party functionaries fearful of bourgeois self-indulgence. The only loophole available is a clause in the marriage code that permits divorce without spousal consent after 18 years of separation. So the years tick on, bringing Lin and Manna gradually closer to their happiness. But waiting has its price—and in the end it becomes clear that it’s been a high one. A deceptively simple tale, written with extraordinary precision and grace. Ha Jin has established himself as one of the great sturdy realists still writing in a postmodern age.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40653-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999


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