War Trash, the extraordinary new novel by the National Book Awardwinning author of Waiting, is Ha Jin's most ambitious work to date: a powerful, unflinching story that opens a window on an unknown aspect of a little-known warthe experiences of Chinese POWs held by Americans during the Korean conflictand paints an intimate portrait of conformity and dissent against a sweeping canvas of confrontation.
Set in 195153, War Trash takes the form of the memoir of Yu Yuan, a young Chinese army officer, one of a corps of "volunteers" sent by Mao to help shore up the Communist side in Korea. When Yu is captured, his command of English thrusts him into the role of unofficial interpreter in the psychological warfare that defines the POW camp.
Taking us behind the barbed wire, Ha Jin draws on true historical accounts to render the complex world the prisoners inhabita world of strict surveillance and complete allegiance to authority. Under the rules of war and the constraints of captivity, every human instinct is called into question, to the point that what it means to be human comes to occupy the foremost position in every prisoner's mind.
As Yu and his fellow captives struggle to create some sense of community while remaining watchful of the deceptions inherent in every exchange, only the idea of home can begin to hold out the promise that they might return to their former selves. But by the end of this unforgettable novelan astonishing addition to the literature of war that echoes classics like Dostoevsky's Memoirs from the House of the Dead and the works of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owenthe very concept of home will be more profoundly altered than they can even begin to imagine.
1. Crossing The Yalu
Before the Communists came to power in 1949, I was a sophomore at the Huangpu Military Academy, majoring in political education. The school, at that time based in Chengdu, the capital of Szechuan Province, had played a vital part in the Nationalist regime. Chiang Kai-shek had once been its principal, and many of his generals had graduated from it. In some ways, the role of the Huangpu in the Nationalist army was like that of West Point in the American military.
The cadets at the Huangpu had been disgusted with the corruption of the Nationalists, so they readily surrendered to the People's Liberation Army when the Communists arrived. The new government disbanded our academy and turned it into a part of the Southwestern University of Military and Political Sciences. We were encouraged to continue our studies and prepare ourselves to serve the new China. The Communists promised to treat us fairly, without any discrimination. Unlike most of my fellow ...
The story is told with few frills; the descriptions are stark but immensely compelling; and the narrator's voice made more authentic by being sometimes less than eloquent and at other times bursting with raw emotion.
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