War Trash by Ha Jin Pantheon $195 Although a fictional memoir of a Chinese prisoner of war in a US-run camp, War Trash comes across as a historical record shot in documentary format, albeit with a few stilted recreations. The protagonist is Yu Yuan, who 'volunteers' to fight in the Korean war against US and South Korean forces. Fed lies about the enemy, the Chinese troops are devastated. Yu chooses imprisonment over martyrdom and is taken with thousands of detainees to a camp on an island near Pusan. There, the novel changes from black and white to technicolour, enhancing in uncomfortable detail the life of POWs. A 73-year-old Yu narrates the tale from memory in spare, sometimes staccato language that fans will recognise from Ha Jin's previous prize-winning works. Yu, who serves his US captors because of his English-language ability, is caught between warring Nationalist and Communist factions in the camp. After the war, he's torn between heading for Taiwan and returning to the mainland. Filial duty and a fiancee persuade him to go home, which so incenses the Nationalists they tattoo 'f*** communism' on his belly. War Trash refers to the prisoners treated as human detritus by their captors. Just as the tattoo is a permanent mark Yu has to live with, readers will be reminded of how often history repeats itself.