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War Trash
by Ha Jin

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Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Pantheon (2004-10-05)
ISBN-10/ISBN-13: 0375422765 / 9780375422768 Sales Rank: 1855885

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Paperback (Vintage $15.95) | Paperback (Tusquets Editor $22.95)

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One of the 10 best books of 2004 according to The New York Times
“A powerfully apposite moral fable whose suffering hero passes from delusion to clarity as a Chinese P.O.W. in Korea.”

“In reading Ha Jin's powerfully moving War Trash, one might be forgiven for forgetting that it's a work of imaginative fiction and not a nonfiction account by an elderly Chinese man writing in fastidious, plain-spoken English of his years as a P.O.W. in United States and South Korean military prisons during the Korean War. (...) War Trash, though it appears to be a realistic portrait of a particular time and place, is at bottom a moral fable, timeless and universal. Set for the most part in the years when Yu Yuan was a P.O.W., 1951-53, with brief summaries of the years that precede and follow, it's an episodic first-person account of pain, oppression and deprivation, a classic prison narrative that leads the sufferer step by step from an initial state of delusion and self-centered conformism through stages of partial enlightenment all the way to spiritual clarity and freedom. (...) With the suspense building toward a surprising climax and an utterly satisfying end, there is a philosophical certitude and serenity in the final pages of the novel that one rarely experiences in fiction. It is a Buddhist calm. (...) War Trash is not a large novel, but it is a nearly perfect one.”

Russell Banks (The New York Times)
author of Continental Drift, The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter and The Darling

Book description
War Trash, the extraordinary new novel by the National Book Award–winning 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 war—the experiences of Chinese POWs held by Americans during the Korean conflict—and paints an intimate portrait of conformity and dissent against a sweeping canvas of confrontation.

Set in 1951–53, 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 inhabit—a 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 novel—an 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 Owen—the very concept of home will be more profoundly altered than they can even begin to imagine.

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