book review: war trash

Before leaving for China I was reading Ha Jin’s novel, War Trash. It’s got similarities to the other Ha Jin books I’ve read, but felt a bit more serious, less fable-like.

It’s about Chinese POWs in the Korean war. I didn’t know much about that war before starting the book, and I guess I still don’t, though I feel like I know more about POW camps. The narrator isn’t a staunch Communist which gives him many problems in the Communist and Nationalist factions in these camps. It all feels very much about the difficulty of an individual to make his own way. Especially if he is talented (the narrator knows English which makes him valuable to everyone in the camp). But everything sort of works out. I mean, people die, and the narrator gets into a couple of close scrapes, but nothing important feels super-threatened.

There’s this distance to the whole thing, to all the Ha Jin books I’ve read actually, that bugs me. I don’t know if it’s because it’s Ha’s second language or intentional, but it’s noticeable.

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