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Ha Jin, author of award-winning poetry and fiction, read to students in Classes I and II from his book War Trash, a work which earned the 2005 PEN/Faulkner Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. After his reading, Ha Jin talked with students in Straus Library about his book and also about the work of writing. Ha Jin came to Milton on March 29, as the second Bingham Reader of the school year.

War Trash tells the story of Yu Yuan, forced to volunteer as part of the People’s Liberation Army in Korea where he was captured and forced into POW camps run by the Americans and South Koreans. Since the camps included both nationalist and communist Chinese soldiers, Yu Yuan’s life — particularly as a person who speaks English — is thick with challenging and complex political and personal choices.

Asked about the considerations involved in writing an historical novel, Ha Jin explained that his research was intended to help him create the exact environmental situation, complete with its political exigencies. Often, he said, photographs and pictures were the most helpful evidence for his needs in writing the book. The characters were his own creations, and were not historical figures. TheNew York Timescalled Ha Jin’s narrator, Yu Yuan, “one of the most fully realized characters to emerge from the fictional world in years.”