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War Trash

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3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,501 Ratings  ·  220 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, 368 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2004)
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7th out of 100 books — 31 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul ZombieVintage
Nov 13, 2008 Paul ZombieVintage rated it liked it
Shelves: have
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.

At
...more
Michael Meeuwis
Aug 12, 2012 Michael Meeuwis rated it really liked it
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
Jan 26, 2015 Earl Grey Tea rated it really liked it
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
...more
Sean Owen
Aug 11, 2015 Sean Owen rated it it was ok
"War Trash" is a strange kind of book. It's written as the memoir of a fictional Chinese POW during the Korean War. In keeping with the fictional memoir format the writing is simplistic and straight forward. The narrator catalogs chronologically his experiences from enlistment to capture and on to release. Jin adheres to the formula well and captures the voice of the character, but this doesn't necessarily make for all that interesting reading. The reader will walk away with a good understanding ...more
Vasha7
Feb 10, 2012 Vasha7 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 05, 2008 Leah Shafer rated it really liked it
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
...more
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

...more
Pato
Jan 23, 2008 Pato rated it really liked it
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
Quiet
Dec 19, 2015 Quiet rated it it was ok
"War Trash" is a large collection of research on events that happened within Chinese and Korean POW camps during the Korean War, then thrown together into one single shape of Fiction.

It's a near 400 page novel that doesn't let up; thing after thing happens, and while this constantly provides a new activity and thing to contemplate, it doesn't necessarily work as compelling fiction. Yes, Ha Jin does capture the atrocity and desperation within POW camps and his recreation of actual events into fi
...more
S Moss
Aug 01, 2015 S Moss rated it it was amazing
Every Man Is an Island

Few American readers know much about the Korean War, despite the many American soldiers who were killed fighting in it and despite the large numbers of American military still stationed in S. Korea, because technically the war has not ended--only a truce has been declared. Still fewer Americans know much about the conflict between the Communist and Nationalist Chinese that pre-dated the Korean War and extended into that conflict. And even fewer know anything about the Chine
...more
Sheri
Jun 29, 2014 Sheri rated it liked it
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
...more
Janet Carroll
Jun 29, 2015 Janet Carroll rated it really liked it
I have found another great author--Ha Jin. This book details the experience of a Chinese soldier from Communist China who has been sent into Korea to support North Korea in the Korean War. His English-speaking ability has brought him a degree of respect but he is immediately captured and finds himself caught between his homeland where his elderly mother and fiancee lives and Chang Kaichek's free China. The pressure for him to declare his intentions one way or the other is intense and he struggle ...more
Marguerite
I knew nothing about this period in history before I opened this. Ha Jin does a great job of bringing it to life through the character Yu Yuan. The result makes the prisoner of war experience personal, even universal. The pace of the book drags in places (the abduction), which might just echo the experience of captivity, but it made me consider jumping ship.
Agnes
Aug 25, 2015 Agnes rated it it was amazing
Ha Jin's War Trash is a story of mind control and submission through harsh and tortuous circumstances! The author brings the reader into the mind of someone forced to participate in events just for his survival and the survival of his family. It also shows the hypocrisy of military leadership and how they manipulate men who serve under their command! What is even more remarkable about this story is the author's uncanny ability to portray characters in a historical setting with rich details. Pers ...more
David
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.
Nancy Doerrer
Apr 23, 2015 Nancy Doerrer rated it it was ok
I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as Ha-Jin's "Waiting". But it is a different sort of story. Yu Yuan is a Chinese "volunteer in the Communist army during the Korean War (1951-1953). He is captured by the Americas and held as a POW in various camps. Because he speaks English and is well-educated, he is used by various Communist and pro-Nationalist prisoners in a bloody power struggle. Yuan only wants to return to the China mainland to marry his fiancee and care for his elderly mother. Ma ...more
Catherine
May 13, 2015 Catherine rated it really liked it
Another interesting novel by Ha Jin, War Trash examines an American POW camp in 1951 Korea from the point of view of an educated Chinese prisoner. Yu Yuan finds himself caught between the ideologies of the Chinese Pro-Nationalist and Communist camps, neither of which he subscribes to, his main focus being to stay alive so that he can return to his elderly mother and fiancée on the Chinese mainland. Examining the themes of home, community, loyalty, honor, and friendship, Ha Jin's novel calls into ...more
Kim Shively
Dec 28, 2014 Kim Shively rated it it was amazing
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
Jessica
Oct 13, 2014 Jessica rated it really liked it
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
James
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
Marjorie
Apr 16, 2011 Marjorie rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 17, 2011 Rebecca Johnson rated it really liked it
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
...more
Robert
Jan 01, 2013 Robert rated it liked it
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
...more
Wendy
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
Dec 03, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-fiction
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
...more
Tony
Dec 04, 2009 Tony rated it it was amazing
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
Mark
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
...more
Meghan Krogh
Jan 02, 2014 Meghan Krogh rated it it was ok
Shelves: xy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael
Nov 17, 2008 Michael rated it liked it
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).

W
...more
Roger DeBlanck
Aug 10, 2015 Roger DeBlanck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
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
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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.” 1 likes
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