Yes, I know it’s Tuesday. This weekend was beautiful and I spent some time roaming around Harvard Square (got a cute little $10 shirt at Urban Outfitters and some delicious frozen yogurt at Berry Line). I also stopped by Harvard Book Store where they were having a great sidewalk sale. I picked up Waiting by Ha Jin and Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach for $1 each – really can’t beat that!
It is yet another story set in 17th-century Holland involving a real-life artist, Jan van Loos. Van Loos comes to paint Sophia, the pretty young wife of wealthy burger Cornelius Sandvoort, which starts a train of events that will irredeemably change all their lives. Sophia and the artist fall hopelessly in love; the Sandvoorts’ servant, Maria, is having a child by a man who, thinking himself betrayed by her, has run off and joined the navy; meanwhile, Cornelius has always longed for a child. Out of these circumstances, the infatuated couple formulate a plot, but one that depends on getting together a great deal of money in a short time; hence, the frenzied speculation in the value of new and rare breeds of tulip that gives the book its title.
Lin Kong is a Chinese army doctor trapped in an arranged marriage that embarrasses and repels him. Nevertheless, he’s content with his tidy military life, at least until he falls in love with Manna, a nurse at his hospital. Regulations forbid an army officer to divorce without his wife’s consent–until 18 years have passed, that is, after which he is free to marry again. So, year after year Lin asks his wife for his freedom, and year after year he returns from the provincial courthouse: still married, still unable to consummate his relationship with Manna. Nothing feeds love like obstacles placed in its way–right? But Jin’s novel answers the question of what might have happened to Romeo and Juliet had their romance been stretched out for several decades. In the initial confusion of his chaste love affair, Lin longs for the peace and quiet of his “old rut.” Then killing time becomes its own kind of rut, and in the end, he is forced to conclude that he “waited eighteen years just for the sake of waiting.”