Waiting for Li Ming
June M. Blurton is a retired speech pathologist.
It is 1989 and Rudy is waiting for Li Ming. Rudy, a Canadian who spent
the previous year in the People’s Republic of China teaching English
literature at a teachers’ college, and Li Ming, his translator, fell
in love. She was forced to stay in China. He returned to Canada and
enrolled in a graduate creative writing program. Every day he waits—to
hear that she will be granted permission to join him, for a baby to be
born to a friend, and for his book to be finished.
The author also spent a year in China teaching English and if, like
Rudy, he did not speak Chinese, he must have felt the same isolation and
fury at not being able to communicate with the people he saw every day.
Rudy is the butt of cruel jokes, yearns for heaters during the frigid
winter, watches men and women doing the hard manual labor that is taken
for granted, is fascinated by the long history of the area, and
understands the fear of the Chinese at being too closely associated with
Li Ming is aware of this at the beginning of the relationship. She is
also aware of the social stigma attached to a woman who is alone with a
man; but in spite of the communist culture, she is an individualist and
begins to take chances.
The author manages the swings between Rudy’s past in China and his
present in Canada with skill and ease. His characters are living people
whether they are likeable or not. The poverty, the beauty, the fear, and
the cultural traditions of a small city in China are graphically
portrayed. Cumyn has written a delightful book, which is also funny,
insightful, and sad.