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War Trash

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  2,243 ratings  ·  198 reviews
Ha Jin's masterful new novel casts a searchlight into a forgotten corner of modern history, the experience of Chinese soldiers held in U.S. POW camps during the Korean War. In 1951 Yu Yuan, a scholarly and self-effacing clerical officer in Mao's "volunteer" army, is taken prisoner south of the 38th Parallel. Because he speaks English, he soon becomes an intermediary betwee ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Vintage Books USA (first published January 1st 2004)
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Community Reviews

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Paul ZombieVintage
This book is a ficitional account of a Chinese prisoner of the Korean War. Apparently things weren't all funny, serious, then funny/serious like the TV show MASH made them out to be. Yu Yuan, or whatever various false names he used throughout his inturnment was a Nationalist Chinese who was used like a pawn by the Communist regime that had taken over before the war. He was sent into Korea to keep the United States out of North Korea just so they would be that much further from mainland China.

Michael Meeuwis
How engaging should a novel about uniformly unpleasant experiences be? This novel is brief, and pretty much stripped down of psychology; instead, a series of things happen to the narrator, a PLA soldier during the Korean War who spends most of his time in Korean refugee camps divided between Communist and Chinese Nationalist soldiers and overseen by the American military. I found myself thinking of Defoe quite a bit: the narrator has also brief moments of agency, and is mostly just the victim of ...more
Earl Grey Tea
I enjoyed reading one of Ha Jin's books when I was in high school and another later on in college. While I knew that this work would center around a part of life in China, I was surprised to learn that this book takes place during the Korean war. As an expat living in Korea, I always hear about this war from the view of the Americans, South Korea and the UN. Seeing the war from the point of view of a Chinese soldier made the book all that much more interesting.

Like the books that I've read befor
This book is the "memoir" of the experiences of Yu Yuan, former student at the Huangpu Military Academy, during the Korean War, most of which he spends imprisoned by the Americans. Actually, you might say "during the Chinese civil war", because the effects of that conflict are everywhere. You might even say "during the Cold War". Yuan initially believes the reason he was given for his division being sent to Korea, to prevent the Americans from invading China; he has been told that the Chinese so ...more
Leah Shafer
So thank your lucky stars you were not a member of the Chinese Army around the time of the Korean War. As Douglas MacArthur plotted to invade Mainland China, Mao sent thousands of bodies to defend. But it was more like a mow-down then starve-off.

This PEN/Faulkner award-winning novel is the fictional memoir of Yu Yuan, a POW at several camps and a frequent pawn between the pro-Nationalists and the Communists. It's a dense read with some serious history and military strategy. The scale of human s
Bookmarks Magazine

Critics agree that War Trash, by the National Book Award-winning author, has an unusual tone. Yu's methodical, even pedantic storytelling of the Chinese soldiers taken prisoner by U.N. forces struck some critics as dull; many complained of slow patches. However, several readers praised this very slowness. To them, Yu's is the soft voice of a man who wants to record a painful past without sensationalism. The New York Times Book Review even called Yu "one of the most fully realized characters to e

Not a character novel, a sweeping memoir style that's hard to get used to. In the early chapters it feels like a book born from a writer who's been doing tons of research, i.e. a bunch of anecdotes he read about, squeezed together within a contrived context. But the pace is consistent and I got used to it after awhile, which let me focus on the really interesting historical/war special interest content. Not as relentlessly brutal or chilling as you might expect. The narrator, a Chinese POW in an ...more
Ha Jin is a Chinese author who now lives in the US and writes in English about China. He's won numerous literary prizes, including the PEN/Faulkner award for this novel, War Trash. In fact, Ha Jin is one of just 4 authors ever to have won two PEN/Faulkner awards.

War Trash is set in the Korean War. Its main character is a young Chinese man, a graduate of that country's most prominent military academy, at a time when the Korean War has just started. He's drafted to be part of the Chinese forces s
In War Trash, 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 spi ...more
Jan 22, 2015 David is currently reading it
So I'm pretty much dropping all of my other current books for this. I loved A Free Life and recently enjoyed In the Pond and am already hooked on this one just a few pages in. I'll need to read even more of his books to know for sure, but right now I can easily place Ha Jin in my short list of favorite authors.
There is something about the straight-forward writing style of Ha Jin that draws me to his books. This novel was especially intriguing because it gives a glimpse into the experiences of Chinese POWs in American POW camps during the Korean War. The constant political maneuvering each prisoner had to enact was complicated by the fact that the Communist revolution in mainland China had just occurred and the Nationalists in Taiwan were, with the help of Americans, still trying to launch attacks onto ...more
This is not a "new" book and it has already received numerous awards and positive reviews from more distinguished readers and publications than myself, but as the child of southeast Asian immigrants this book has helped me understand my parents a great deal better. Their verbal expressions and ways of thinking have often seemed foreign to a child fully immersed in suburban American culture, but as I grow-up and look for ways to understand my heritage beyond Panda Express and all you can eat buff ...more
This book deserves a very long review which I don't have time to do at the moment. I think that it stands a chance (or should, anyway) of being one of those classic "let me tell you how war was in the 20th century, and also how it is in most centuries". The main character, Yu Yuan, is an observant, intelligent, kind character, a young man from (now) Communist China who gets caught up in the Korean War. While I was alive during the Korean War, I was a small child and had no idea what it was about ...more
Rebecca Johnson
This book is one of those that is best appreciated after it's finished. The whole is more than the sum of the parts, and I found myself thinking about the book for several days after I finished it, which is a sure sign that it's a good one. Here are my thoughts, with no particular organization:

I thought it was an interesting choice by the author to write such a sympathetic character as the narrator of a pseudo-memoir. If this character is truly fictitious, then the author has all the freedom in
War Trash by Ha Jin is a conventionally written fictional memoir that begins by detailing the involvement of Communist Chinese troops in the Korean war--as experienced by the narrator, Yu Yuan, who is not a party member--and then becomes a captivity narrative when Yu Yuan and thousands of fellow soldiers are taken prisoner by U.S.-led U. N. forces.

I found this novel to be interesting chiefly because of its point of view. The horrors of war recounted here are unfortunately commonplace and the sit
This fictional memoir-style novel told by a Chinese soldier taken prisoner by the US army during the Korean war, perhaps as a reflection of its mild-mannered, insightful, educated narrator, rolls forward in the chronologic, episodic manner of a real-life historical account. Jin incorporates detail-rich swaths of political and historical interest to ensure that the typical American reader learns something new about the aptly-named “Forgotten War”. Since the episodic nature of history doesn’t alwa ...more
Ron Charles
We still hear of wars and rumors of wars, but the war against terrorism is making POW status increasingly complex. Islamic fundamentalists behead their captives on website ads, and the United States sweeps "illegal combatants" into an extralegal black hole from which no light - except for a few photos - can escape.

The diplomats meeting in Geneva in 1929 hoped to enshrine protections for prisoners of war, but despite their careful enumerations, the agreement they cobbled together couldn't anticip
Jin, Ha. WAR TRASH. (2004). *****. Jin is a marvelous writer, and manages, with this book, to take us into the prison camp for Chinese POWs during the Korean War. I read this book when it first came out, but picked it up again to savor the language of the author. It is the story of Yu Wan, a clerical officer in Chairman Mao’s “volunteer” army fighting alongside the North Korean forces. When he is captured by U.S. troops below the 38th Parallel, he is interned along with other captured troops. He ...more
This novel about a Chinese Army "volunteer" taken prisoner in the Korean War could have very easily been little more than an anti-Communist screed; in another world it might have been Communist propaganda. It is neither of these. Instead it is the story of a man and what he saw, and that is good.

The opening chapters actually involve some fighting in Korea, but these are sparsely detailed. Yu Yuan isn't much of a soldier - nor, really, are any of the so-called People's Volunteers, but they are th
Meghan Krogh
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This is a very good book, just not my favorite. It's well-crafted, tells an interesting story, and educated me on a segment of history I'd never before considered.

After Mao takes over China, newly-Communist Chinese soldiers fight in the Korean War as a "volunteer army" (so as not to officially implicate China). When captured by the Americans, the Chinese are offered the chance either to go back to China or to go to Taiwan with the Nationalists (the party overthrown by Mao and the Communists).

Roger DeBlanck
Ha Jin’s novel, War Trash, is a remarkable historical fiction investigating the Korean War. Written as a memoir from experiences embodied through Jin’s fictional character, Yuan Yan, the novel serves as testimony, history, and art all woven into one to make an emotional, political statement condemning war. Yan narrates how he loyally serves the Chinese volunteer army, even though the soldiers stand no chance against the American forces that either kill or capture every Chinese infantryman. Once ...more
An outstanding book. Ha Jin’s narrator (with all the aliases he uses, I forget his name) is a recognizably human and sympathetic character. A Chinese soldier captured as a POW in the Korean War, he must navigate between two competing groups – the Communists and the Nationalists - in the prisoner camps in which he is held. As an only child, his only concern is to return home to care for his elderly mother and marry his fiancé. The politics of war, however, refuse to recognize these very human nee ...more
War Trash's length alone will be enough to turn off a lot of readers. It is very detailed, sometimes a little episodic and disjointed, and occasionally describes long stretches of inactivity.

This is not your standard war prisoner narrative; this is the story of two separate guerrilla insurgencies operating from inside POW compounds. It's fascinating to follow the development of culture, propaganda, and bureaucracy within the Communist and Nationalist prisons, and to see that (as with any militar
Craig Scanlan
First, I'm absolutely amazed that this was written in English by an author who'd picked up English maybe 15 years earlier.

Second, at times it feels like the main character just happened to experience ever single possible event that occurred in Chinese/North Korean POW camps during the Korean war, owing to an author who really just wanted to cram a lot of the historical stuff in there.

Still, while the book remains fiction, it's an interesting start to learning about the Chinese side of the confl
Chris Watson
I guess you would call this fictionalised history. Apparently well sourced, and historically accurate, all events are supposedly historically-sourced, except they are presented as having happened to various fictional characters within a fictional narrative.

It wasn't my usual idea of great literature. Written as if it was a memoir by a Chinese veteran of the Korean War; it really did seem authentic. It had all the excitement and emotion of well-written history (I find history exciting and moving,
Staci Woodburn
I suppose you'd call this historical fiction. It's a meticulously researched portrayal of a piece of the Korean War, but told as a pseudo-memoir by a fictional character. Yuan is a POW held in American camps during the war; he is Chinese but not a Communist so his narration gives an outsider's view of the Nationalists, Americans, North and South Koreans and Chinese Communists as he navigates through the POW camps.

Initially, I thought the writing was a bit off, I couldn't put my finger on it, bu
Maybe this sounds contradictory to what I wrote before, but I am giving this book 5 stars. How do you call a book a "favorite" when the story told is so thoroughly horrible. This book is more memoir than historical fiction. Names had to be changed! First of all this is about a war and primarily is focused on life in the POW camps. But beyond the violence, starvation and brutality common to many wars, one is confronted with the prisoners' total inability to know who to believe. They could trust n ...more
"He's such a strapping man, yet he lost his mind so easily."

"Some men would not shoot their draft animals, but afraid other might kill them for meat, they set them free. Some of the horses and mules wouldn't go away and followed their former keeps to this shore."

"A large mole kept moving near the edge of Chaolin's left eye as he spoke."

"We were all like hungry ghosts, fearful but unable to stop wandering around."

"I hadn't come across a book for half a year. the deprivation had whetted my appetit
A fictional memoir, War Trash tells the story of a Chinese soldier taken prisoner during the Korean War and held in a variety of prisoner-of-war camps.
A college graduate student, Yu Yuan has an uneasy relationship with the communist leadership in the camps, but his knowledge of English makes him indispensable as an interpreter and he witnesses key events and decisions.
The first few chapters describe the poor preparation of Yuan's unit, disaster in an attack pushed too far, and a desperate atte
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Ha Jin is the pen name of Xuefei Jin, a novelist, poet, short story writer, and Professor of English at Boston University. Ha Jin writes in English about China, a political decision post-Tiananmen Square.
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“To witness is to make the truth known, but we must remember that most victims have no voice of their own, and that in bearing witness to their stories we must not appropriate them.” 0 likes
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