Qian's Reviews > War Trash

War Trash by Ha Jin
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's review
Jun 14, 2009

really liked it

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 attempt at survival as guerrillas behind enemy lines, before his injury and capture.

He is treated in hospital by a sympathetic American doctor, but then finds himself in a camp controlled by Nationalists. They try to force everyone to choose repatriation to Taiwan instead to mainland China.

Wanting to return to his mother and fiancee, he ends up in communist prisoner-of-war camps on Koje and then Cheju Island.

In addition to these dramatic events, Yuan also describes ordinary daily life in the camps, and the different responses of individuals to imprisonment. And a brief final chapter describes his difficult life following his return to China, where he and other ex-POWs are treated as suspect.

They are not really developed, but War Trash has a range of varied and striking characters as well as plenty of action. It also sheds light on a neglected part of a relatively neglected war; it is not history, but most of its incidents appear to be based on real events. And I recommand anybody who is interested in it should try to read it.


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