October 29, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it a B+

The nature of love, family duty, and divorce are explored with unnerving insight in this 1999 National Book Award nominee. For 17 years, urbane army-hospital doctor Lin Kong has returned annually to his impoverished Chinese village to ask his illiterate, arranged-marriage wife, Shuyu, for a divorce, so that he can marry his girlfriend. Each year, Shuyu, who devotedly raised their daughter alone, has refused Lin’s request — but this year, the 18th, the government will automatically grant him a divorce. After opening with this provocative premise, Ha Jin overexplains the story’s background. But the lengthy finale, in which Lin remarries and pays an unexpected price for his passive wait, resounds with elegant irony. B+

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