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.
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.
The New York Times - Russell Banks
The seamless, somewhat unsettling fusion of invention and reportage is aided and abetted by the fact that Ha Jin taps into two ancient and honorable Western literary traditions -- the novel in the form of a nonfiction memoir, and the nonfiction memoir as prison narrative.... It's a brilliant and original enjambment, and Ha Jin pulls it off with mastery; the result is that his narrator, Yu Yuan, is one of the most fully realized characters to emerge from the fictional world in years.
The Washington Post's Book World - Charles McCarry
The war trash of this hypnotic novel are Chinese soldiers who were taken prisoner by U.N. forces -- mainly American -- during the Korean War. Written in the modest, uninflected prose of a soldier's letter home, Ha Jin's story, a mixture of authentic historical detail and realistic invention, is a powerful work of the imagination whose psychic territory is not the hunger and humiliation of the prison camp but the haunted past that was the old, lost China and the mysterious future that is in the process of becoming Mao Zedong's chimerical new China.
Another brilliant installment in Ha Jin's history of modern China (The Crazed, 2002, etc.), written with his usual understatement and clarity.
Jin applies his steady gaze and stripped-bare storytelling to the violence and horrifying political uncertainty of the Korean War in this brave, complex and politically timely work...It is one of the enduring frustrations of Jin's work that powerful passages of description are interspersed with somewhat wooden dialogue, but the force of this story, painted with starkly melancholy longing, pulls the reader inexorably along.
Booklist - Donna Seaman
Ha Jin, the author most recently of The Crazed (2002), has made exposing hidden facets of China's recent past his calling, and in this tour de force, he illuminates historical events that are as timely as they are shocking....Ha Jin's taut drama of war, incarceration, coercion, and survival is galvanizing, and his ardently observant narrator is heroic in his grappling with the paradox of humankind's savagery and hunger for the divine.
I am enthralled by Ha Jin's work he always presents moral conundrums within historical contexts; the frayed edges of humanity; the ways in which both the tenacious and hopeless survive. He is one of our most gifted and essential writers.
Robert D. Kaplan, author of Warrior Politics
This is more than a novel. It's an historical document about a forgotten part of a forgotten war. No historian could bring to light this tale of interminable loneliness and suffering about Chinese prisoners during the Korean War as well as Ha Jin has.
Ha Jin is one of the finest writers in America subtle, huge-hearted, possessed of an utterly original, mind-altering vision of the world, and an exquisite, disciplined style. His work never fails to thrill me, and expand my ideas about life, and about the transformative powers of fiction.
Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain
Ha Jin's historical novel about Chinese prisoners held during the Korean War couldn't be more topical. In telling this story from the loser's perspective, he has called upon all of his wonderful and impressive skills as a writer. He never shies away from the degradation of the prisoners, while at the time revealing small humanities that happen in even the most desperate of circumstances.
Michael Shapiro, author of The Shadow in the Sun A Korean Year of Love and Sorrow
Ha Jin's stark, evocative prose transports us to a harrowing world we have never before seen and which we will not soon forget.
Perry Link, Professor of Chinese, Princeton University
Ha Jin is emerging as a major figure in the literary interpretation of life in Communist China. War Trash shows how Chinese men trapped in POW camps in Korea endured cruelty, manipulation, and mind-boggling turns of fate. Still, under Ha Jin's steady moral vision, their humanity, sympathy, and rationality remain apparent. In the end, the trampled ‘trash' uplifts the reader.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Kim Informational, but lacking emotional depth I enjoyed reading War Trash, in that it was an excellent account of life as a Chinese prisoner of war during the Korean War. Although my father was enlisted in the army during that conflict, I know very little about that period of history. Ha... Read More
Rated of 5
by Peter War Trash, memoirs of a soldier I found this novel to be an excellent read because it allowed me to see a vastly untold struggle of that particular war of which I was not aware.
The themes of revenge and honour are portrayed in this text. The theme of honour is developed by... Read More
From within the hopelessness and terror of one of the darkest passages in human history, Dai Sijie has fashioned a beguiling and unexpected story about the resilience of the human spirit, the wonder of romantic awakening and the magical power of storytelling.
New York Times bestselling author David L. Robbins presents a riveting novel of war, love, and survival, set against the backdrop of an improbable rescue, the Los Baños prison raid -- one of the most daring episodes of World War II.
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