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Ocean of Words

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  435 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award

The place is the chilly border between Russia and China. The time is the early 1970s when the two giants were poised on the brink of war. And the characters in this thrilling collection of stories are Chinese soldiers who must constantly scrutinize the enemy even as they themselves are watched for signs of the fatal disease of bourgeois lib
Paperback, 205 pages
Published July 28th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Stephen Douglas Rowland
A good collection, compelling enough for me to tear through it in less than 24 hours, although the quality is a bit uneven. Highlights: "Love in the Air," "Dragon Head," "My Best Soldier." All stories involve soldiers of the People's Liberation Army and take place on the border of China and Russia during the 1970s. ...more
Mar 02, 2009 rated it liked it
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Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
I didn't love this one but it is definitely worth reading. A series of short stories, told from the point of view of a Chinese soldier stationed on the Russian border during the 1970s (Author may have actually been stationed there at about this time - before he left for the US and became an Emory prof)Stories complicate our stereotypical understanding of the Cultural Revolution. Told from the standpoint not of the intelligentsia but of peasants, also concerned with demonstrating they are not cou ...more
Andrew Cooper
This is a nice collection of short stories that slowly gained on me. The first few short ones were okay at best, but Ha Jin's longer stories really make it worth reading. All of the 12 short stories, none of which are longer than 45 pages and most are 15 pages, center around Army units on the Chinese-Russian border in the 1970s, likely in the northeast of China.

While the lesser stories drone as a little monotonous among themselves, the latter stories, especially Ocean of Words which provides the
Nat Olson
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful compilation of short stories about soldiers on the Chinese-Russian border during the 1970’s. Ha Jin has a firm grip on the souls of men, and this book is an expo of those talents.
Michael Steger
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
An impressive collection of stories, all set among Red Army troops stationed along the Russian border. The stories are told in a deceptively modest style (deceptive in the sense that there doubtless was a tremendous amount of editing and whittling-down that went into these stories' making), and they range in tone from the comic to the brutal. Jin is able to evoke ambiguous psychological states, subtle relationships, and bleak landscapes in prose that never shows off or calls attention to itself. ...more
Ha Jin the author of Waiting also shows a create use of mutiple short stories in one book. He discuss the hardships that soldiers had faced during that time between the Russians and the Chinese.

Each chapter discuss how each soldier feel and interact with certain things during the war. The war brought many hardships and problem to many people. There were also corrupted government officials that lead people into the wrong path. Each story is unfold in a way that describes an event of the People
Dec 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
I picked this up at random at the library and am glad I did. The stories are interesting and take me to a place and time remote from my own. At the same time they don't feel foreign at all. There is a little bit of moralizing about the cultural revolution but for the most part it's not heavy handed and the stories are about the people involved rather than about politics. I would definitely like to read a novel by Ha Jin.

The style of the writing didn't wow me. I would also say I thought the arran
tartaruga fechada
Jun 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Grandma was right: The most wicked creature on earth is man. That ox had worked for its master till it was old; when it couldn't work well the master sold it to the slaughterhouse for money. The ox had wept just now, begging the fat butcher in silence for its life, but people wanted to eat beef, so they ignored its tears and butchered it. Man is a true beast." ...more
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asian-american
As I read through this piece of art, I almost touched the apparition of the mid 20 century. All these images and protagnists are so vivid that as if they were truly there. And I venerate what Ha Jin had done for these once lost figures, they should not be forgotten.

It is a well-written novel as well as a crucial historical document of that specific period of time.
Jan 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Although I did not read all of the stories in the book, the ones I did read I really enjoyed. The prose was beautiful and I found the stories of those living in the opressive world of communist China fascinating.
Aug 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
a wonderful collection of short stories set on the russia/china border during the 1970s. all told from the perspective of soldiers in the chinese army, what was most intriguing to me was how familiar their thinking and motivations were with my own.
Gaile Wakeman
Oct 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Interestign perspective on a perverted period of Chinese history. I like this writer and his style--very engaging, I thought. The story is an eye opener about this time and I has a feeling of "being there". ...more
Antonio Baclig
Apr 07, 2010 rated it liked it
I didn't find this collection of short stories notable for an overarching storyline or beautiful prose, but it gave a valuable glimpse into the lives of young men on the front lines in Cold War China. Another testament to how important words, and who controls the words, are. ...more
Feb 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-general
Enjoyed this initial book by Ha Jin. He sheds light on a particular kind of Chinese experience, as I recall, namely, being a soldier in the Red Army. His writing is tight, and he knows how to craft stories well.
Susan Messer
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Stories interconnected by place--people (many of them soldiers) along the Chinese-Russian border. Reminds me of The Orphan Master's Son in terms of the privation and the dangers and especially the diet of sorghum. ...more
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Among Ha Jin's books, this one is the best. Of course, this is just my opinion. The book is about soldier's life. Many songs in Chinese have been eloquently translated into English. And what is the best about the stories? Irony. ...more
Tabbitha Lindsley
May 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
For me this was just an okay book. I had a really hard time getting in to it and I had to force myself to read it. It was a short book so I finished it quickly but it was difficult to keep reading it.
Leif Erik
Aug 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: chinese-lit
One of the better short short collections I have read. Ha Jin has a talent of finding the humanity in the most impersonal of bureaucratic constructs.
Jul 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Excellent writing as always but I wasn't that engaged by any of the stories. ...more
Nov 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Half stars because I've only just begun. They are short stories exquisitely written. ...more
David Marxer
Nov 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Another good collection of short stories, this time dealing with the all too human PLA on the Russian border during the 1970s...A great companion book to Ha Jin's 'War Trash.' ...more
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent stories-- definitely explored a different world view in this.
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book reminded me of Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War masterpiece "The Things They Carried." ...more
Bryan Neuschwander
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed most of these stories. "Love in the Air" and "Ocean of Words" were two of my favorites. ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Holy moly, I don't know if I'm just too easy please or something, but this is amazing.

The title and a titular short story within this collection alludes to Cihai, the first dictionary of Standard Chinese. I find this book to be incredibly complex and deep. It tells of powerful messages through seriously beautifully written language (very very aesthetic) within the many stories taking place in the 70s.

It, in some ways, is a Hulanhezhuan but more blatantly sad and thought-provoking. I'm not going
Jane Pontiñela
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It seems like a subtle sociopolitical commentary simply portrayed by the soldiers under the Party. It's crisp and biting, if you take the hint. You can feel the insecurity and paranoia; the almost "otherwordliness" of their world.

The storytelling is simple, yet absorbing. There's always this element of irony in every characters' dispositions: a mixture of cunning and flaw that I find enigmatic. It's human, all too, human.
Apr 30, 2020 marked it as to-read
Kang jerked his head and rushed to look for her on the new frequency. Without much effort, he found her again. His body grew tense as he became engrossed in the sways and ripples of the heavenly melody. How wonderful to work with a woman at night. If only she could call him like this for an hour. But she stopped and asked, “Please answer.”
Courtney Ferriter
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
Ha Jin is a masterful short story teller and this collection is the best of his I've come across since The Bridegroom (The Bridegroom is still his best, though). An in-depth look at army life in China. ...more
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Collections of short stories often lean towards the uncanny, but Ocean of Words is a lovely compilation of commonplace tales of life in the Chinese military of the 1970s.
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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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