War Trash, Paperback
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


"War Trash" is the unforgettable story of Yu Yuan, a young Chinese army officer sent by Mao with a corps of volunteers' to help shore up the Communist side in Korea.

When the Americans capture Yu, his command of English propels him into the role of unofficial interpreter in the psychological warfare that defines the POW camp.

Desperate to return to his beloved fiancee and widowed mother, Yu is trapped by both barbed wire and politics.




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Ha Jin lied about his age when he was 14 years old so he could join the Chinese People's Liberation Army in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. He left his native China in 1985, and now writes about China, solely in English for the benefit of English-speakers. War Trash, his fourth novel was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.It's hard to believe that there is not an element of autobiography in this story. Our main character is Yu Yuan, who is drafted into the newly formed Communist army and is sent as part of a corps of 'volunteers' to fight against the Americans in the Korean War. The short-comings and lack of preparation on the part of the Communists soon become apparent to our protagonist, as he watches hundreds die around him. Eventually he is captured by the Americans and following surgery, he is sent to a POW camp.Despite having faced hardship out on the battlefield, it is in the POW camp that Yu faces the toughest challenges of all. The POW camps are split between the majority Nationalists, who want to be released to Free China (Taiwan) and the Communists who want to return to China. Yu's English language skills means that both sides are interested in him, but all Yu wants is to return home to his elderly mother and fiancee.The tale is very simply written, sometimes without grace or elegance of language. However, it is an interesting portrait of the inner-conflict that the Chinese people must have faced at the dawn of the Communist age. Yu faces the tough choice between returning to the mainland, possibly declaimed as a traitor for allowing himself to be captured, or moving to Taiwan. The Chinese mentality that is portrayed in the book is confusing to me as a Westerner, but it goes a long way to explain the enthusiasm that the Chinese have for idealogues.Ultimately I found this to be a powerful, yet simple, tale that exposed vast tracts of Chinese attitude and mentality as well as providing insight into a far-away war.

Review by

In <i>War Trash</i>, Ha Jin tells the tale of Yu Yuan - a Chinese "volunteer" in the Korean War, who was captured and endured time in a POW camp. There he falls into the factional conflicts between the Communist and Nationalist Chinese groups, and the American guards but through all the privations and troubles he suffers he continues to hold onto the hope of his fiancée and mother back in China. A epilogue details life for the returnees after the Korean War and the various hardships they endured in spite of the difficulties the POWs endured in Korea. <br/><br/>Ha Jin's novel is fictional but it is historical fiction and though the protagonist and the other characters are fictional the events they are caught up in are based on historical ones, and through it Yu Yuan becomes a avatar for the Chinese soldiers who served in Korea and who, when captured, were cruelly toyed with by the superiors in the hopes of scoring political gains. <br/><br/>The novel powerfully explores the toll wartime experiences can take on a man and on his sense of humanity and decency and yet through it all, Yu Yuan endures everything - he demonstrates a "moving humanity" in the face of extreme inhumanity. <br/><br/>This is an excellent novel and explores a little-known side, especially in China today, to a war often pushed onto the side-lines by conflicts before and after it.

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