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War Trash

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  2,694 Ratings  ·  236 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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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.

Stephanie DiSerio
Dec 17, 2015 Stephanie DiSerio rated it liked it
If you know nothing about the Korean War, you will learn quite a bit from the Chinese perspective. However, it is very difficult to connect with the narrator and I came away from the book feeling very detached.
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
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
Mar 07, 2016 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. Interesting topic of a Chinese POW in American POW camps, but Ha Jin's writing and character development really made it come alive. Yuan is such a complex character who represents the Everyman in that he isn't driven in the war by strong political agenda, he is just a soldier, but he also stands out with his intellect and love of English. Intriguing plot and setting development as well.
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
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
MyACPL Athens County Public Libraries
from James--

Outside of M.A.S.H. and little bit from an American History class, I don't have a lot of knowledge of the Korean War, especially from the Chinese perspective. This story is not told as a history of the conflict, but is the first-person account of a POW. Along the way, you get a little bit of the social and political background, but mostly it's Yu's struggle to thread the needle between the communist and the nationalist and, ultimately, his desire to get home. By coincidence, this is
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
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

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
Tom Carter
Jul 11, 2008 Tom Carter rated it it was amazing
Former soldier-turned-author Ha Jin offers this moving tale of a Chinese “volunteer” soldier held captive as a POW during the Korean War. As captivity is a crime of disgrace to his Chinese contemporaries, young Yu Yuan is essentially forced to remain his war camp and adjust to the internal clashes between Nationalist and Communist prisoners. Rivals any American prison movie.
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.
Aug 02, 2016 David marked it as to-read
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.
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
Dec 07, 2016 Paulina rated it it was amazing
Finishing Ha Jin’s War Trash is like being released from the stagnating, monotonous, life in a prisoner of war camp. However, rather than leaving a feeling of freedom or satisfaction, upon finishing there is a feeling of heaviness and contemplation. Unlike so many novels that end happily, War Trash ends on a tragic note- the death of the prisoners of war who were not only crushed by their experience in the internment camps, but also crushed by their own country and comrades.
War Trash is set duri
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
Mary Beth
Jan 09, 2017 Mary Beth rated it liked it
I liked it and found it very compelling although I have little in common with the narrator. I think Jin does a wonderful job of illustrating the kafkaesque experience of being a Chinese POW during the Korean War. No one comes out looking good in this novel.
Fascinating history of the Chinese soldiers thrown into the Korean war as fodder, and the stigma, coming back home alive. Not the personal, intimate story typical of Ha Jin, but well written as usual. Autographed copy from a talk at University Bookstore.
Veronica Vazquez Zamora
I didn't enjoy this novel as much as I enjoyed _Waiting_. I feel like I learned a lot though.
Nov 01, 2016 Meghan rated it it was ok
Shelves: xy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 25, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
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
Apr 23, 2011 Sophie rated it liked it
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sep 07, 2008 James rated it really liked it
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
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Ha Jin is the pen name of Jin Xuefei, 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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