Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

BD bookshelf: Ha Jin’s ‘War Trash,’ on the life of a Red Chinese PoW in Korea

I picked up one of my sainted wife’s paperbacks, War Trash, by Ha Jin, and was immediately pulled in and read it in a couple of nights, after finishing my work reading, which right now is old transcripts of interrogations of captured Viet Cong, intermixed with oral histories of retired Army generals from the ’60s, ...

goodreads.com
goodreads.com

I picked up one of my sainted wife's paperbacks, War Trash, by Ha Jin, and was immediately pulled in and read it in a couple of nights, after finishing my work reading, which right now is old transcripts of interrogations of captured Viet Cong, intermixed with oral histories of retired Army generals from the '60s, '70s and '80s. (They kind of talk past each other.)

The novel is a beautifully written account of being a Chinese prisoner of war in South Korea during the Korean War. I am not sure what made it seem so remarkable, but it is. With its rich detail and emotional fullness, it reads more like a memoir than a novel. Yet the author was born three years after the Korean War ended.

I'd have to say this is one of the profoundly anti-Communist books I have ever read, made all the more powerful by the author having some sympathy for the goals of the ideology.

I picked up one of my sainted wife’s paperbacks, War Trash, by Ha Jin, and was immediately pulled in and read it in a couple of nights, after finishing my work reading, which right now is old transcripts of interrogations of captured Viet Cong, intermixed with oral histories of retired Army generals from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. (They kind of talk past each other.)

The novel is a beautifully written account of being a Chinese prisoner of war in South Korea during the Korean War. I am not sure what made it seem so remarkable, but it is. With its rich detail and emotional fullness, it reads more like a memoir than a novel. Yet the author was born three years after the Korean War ended.

I’d have to say this is one of the profoundly anti-Communist books I have ever read, made all the more powerful by the author having some sympathy for the goals of the ideology.

Like Yiyun Li’s great The Vagrants, this novel was written in English by a Chinese émigré. I wonder if that is becoming a new genre of American literature. I recommend both books to anyone interested in China — and also to anyone just looking for a good read.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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