Excerpt from War Trash by Ha Jin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

War Trash

By Ha Jin

War Trash
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Oct 2004,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: May 2005,
    368 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Our divisional leaders were unsettled by the loss of lives, equipment, animals, and supplies, but I was more shaken by Tang Jing's case. For a whole week his expressionless face went on haunting me. Never had I thought a man's mind was so easy to destroy.

The next morning, on a roadway leading to Seoul, we ran into a group of U.N. prisoners, about seventy men, marching past us from the opposite direction. The majority of them were Turks, some tall, some quite short, with haggard faces. At the end of the procession were about a dozen Americans, mostly large men wearing parkas. One of them wore steel-rimmed glasses and a tufty red beard. The POWs couldn't walk fast on account of injury and fatigue, and some hobbled along, one using a shovel handle as a crutch. The Chinese guards, toting rifles with fixed bayonets, were rough with them. One officer yelled in a strident voice, "Faster, don't drop behind! You need a ride, eh? I tell you, we have no vehicles to relieve your pampered feet." Although the prisoners couldn't understand him, they looked frightened and hung their heads low.

The encounter cheered us up a little. Our political officers began working to convince the rank and file of the enemy's weakness despite their airpower. Likewise, the U.N. side had never slackened its psychological work either. The roads we trod were strewn with leaflets, dropped by American planes and printed in both Chinese and Korean, urging us to capitulate. One had an ancient couplet on it: "How piteously the skeletons lie on the riverside / Still dreaming of a pretty bride!" Another showed a woodcut in which a young woman stood on the shoulder of a mountain, gazing into the distance, longing for her man's return. We had been ordered to ignore the leaflets. Many men pocketed them to roll cigarettes with or to use as toilet paper, but once you glanced through these sheets, a heavy sadness would stir in your chest, sinking your heart.

Our food supplies, carried by the horse carts, had been used up by the end of the first week, so now the only thing we had to eat was the parched flour in the tubed sacks draped across our chests. Some men found and picked wild herbs-dandelions, purslanes, wild chives, and onions. There was a kind of wild garlic in Korea, whose heads were still tiny but good-tasting, pungent and crispy, not as spicy as the regular garlic. You could eat both their heads and their green tops, but they were scarce in the early spring when most herbs were just beginning to sprout. Some trees were sending out yellowish leaves, which many men plucked and ate. I didn't eat many wild herbs or tree leaves, because I couldn't tell poisonous ones from good ones. Quite a few men were not as cautious and suffered food poisoning.

There were so many troops moving toward and back from the front that as soon as it was dark, the roads turned chaotic, noisy, and jammed with traffic-trucks, artillery pieces, carts drawn by animals, teams of Chinese porters carrying supplies and ammunition, and lines of stretchers loaded with the wounded. Once I saw a camel laden with mortar shells. Every night each regiment of our division had about a hundred stragglers, incapacitated by exhaustion and sore feet. A movement was started among the ranks, called "Leave No Comrade Behind." Officers and Party members were supposed to help carry bedrolls, guns, and bandoliers for those who had difficulty keeping up. I was moved when I saw squad and platoon leaders fetch hot water for their men to bathe their feet. This marked a difference between the Communist army and the Nationalist army, in which even some junior officers had eaten better food than their men and had often abused their inferiors.

We arrived at the Thirty-eighth Parallel on time, but a third of our division could no longer stand on their feet. My legs were swollen and one of my shoes had lost its sole. Our divisional leaders pleaded with the Headquarters of the Chinese People's Volunteer Army for a week's rest, but the superiors allowed us only one day off. We ate a hearty meal-rice and pork stewed with turnip and broad potato noodles. After the meal, like sick animals, we slept in the mountain woods for the rest of the day.

Excerpted from War Trash by Ha Jin, chapter 1 and part of chapter 2 (pages 6-20) of the hardcover edition.  Copyright© 2004 by Ha Jin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...
  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.