War Trash

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

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


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.

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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