War Trash

By Ha Jin, <I>Pantheon. $25</I>


Ha Jin’s new novel, War Trash, is the fictional memoir of Yu Yuan, a young Chinese army officer sent with the “People’s Volunteers” to help the Communist side in the Korean War. Aside from its extraordinary aesthetic accomplishment, this is a riveting page-turner — leaping right into bloody firefights and foolish command decisions, forced marches and catastrophic defeats. When Yuan is finally captured by American soldiers, the novel finds its true and timely subject — the experience of Korean POWs in American camps. Because of his good command of English, Yuan soon becomes a pivotal translator in the power struggles between various POW factions — Communist and Nationalist — and their American jailors.

Outnumbered wardens, spiraling violence, the gradual dehumanization of both sides — the comparison to Abu Ghraib is unavoidable. POWs even demand that their American captors abide by the Geneva Conventions. Ha Jin brings to this chaos a serene moral clarity. He has so thoroughly researched the historical milieu that War Trash reads less like a deliberate exploration of the human condition — which it is — than stunned first-person reportage. There’s a blank neutrality to the gaze of his young narrator, recording everything and judging nothing. Ha Jin strikes a rare balance between the all-seeing detachment of the novelist and the particularity of a single character’s experience — a pitch-perfect blend of immediacy and lyrical beauty.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.