Vasha7's Reviews > War Trash

War Trash by Ha Jin
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's review
Jan 31, 2012

really liked it
Read from January 29 to February 08, 2012

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 soldiers are heroes. But he soon begins to feel more like a pawn than a hero. He's seeing that his superiors are playing a political game, and national and global interests are being pursued in which individuals have no worth.

In part, this novel gives a view of the Cold War as seen very partially by its obscure narrator. But it is also a character study, as Yuan grows increasingly isolated. He often retreats into introspection, and reads when he can get printed material. He does not want to join any party or "side", and could not if he wanted to, having been involuntarily involved with both sides of the civil war, and thus not trusted by either. Yuan quietly resists being mere "war trash", used and thrown away. He can speak good English and can recognize individual Americans, addressing them by name. This ability saves him and others several times. He navigates through the dangers of being in the middle of the great conflict by negotiating with other people as individuals. But ultimately, this can't entirely save him, because these other people are just as manipulated as he is.
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