I have now finished Ha Jin’s third novel ‘War Trash’ about the experiences of a young chinese guy, Yu Yuan, taking part in the Korean war and imprisoned as a result. He documents (and that is an appropriate word as it often reads like a documentary rather than a work of fiction), as if sometimes an observer, the horrors and conflicts of being a POW and the power struggles between communists and nationalists, Koreans and americans and mixes this with detailed descriptions of daily life in the camps. It was a slow read but one worth persevering with as it faithfully, given the list of references at the end, documents life in the Korean war for the forgotten thousands used by chinese government in this war – hence the title. He paints a picture of the impossibility of ‘winning’ his personal battle for survival no matter what course of action he takes and this is a fascinating account of the value systems of the time at play as a microcosm of the battles of the war itself.
It is well written though it is a slow read and its fastidiousness would be off putting if you were looking for a simple work of fiction. It gave me insights into the Korean War which I enjoyed and this is one reason why I stuck to it. I am now going to read his second novel which received a prize in 1999 ‘Waiting‘.
If you like historical novels and want to understand the mind sets of the chinese at war around the birth of chinese communism this is worth reading.