Twelve stories describe the experiences of Chinese officers and soldiers stationed along the Chinese-Russian border
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Set on China's bleak northern border in the 1970s, when Russia and China were close to war, these short stories describe the life of soldiers, professional officers, and raw recruits, living in constant proximity. In this hierarchical and politically charged world, there is even less privacy than normal in China, highlighting a fundamental difference between Chinese and Western societies. The book provides an unusually brilliant insight into the Chinese psyche, with its preoccupations with food, family, and political standing, and its ambivalent attitudes toward women and animals.
Yet Ocean of Words also makes us aware of the common humanity that we share with Ha Jin's characters. Hunger, fear, sexual embarrassment, curiosity about the outside world are universal emotions, and we find ourselves caring deeply about these men. The title refers to a treasured dictionary in a story that brings together a maladjusted young man and an elderly officer. Ha Jin obviously cares deeply about words; his writing is spare, penetrating, and often funny, as when he describes the embarrassment of the officers at the "politically incorrect" earthiness of an old survivor of the Long March, who by definition must be considered an archetypal revolutionary. In this book, Ha Jin has done for the Chinese army what Zhang Xianliang did so powerfully for the prison camp in works like Grass Soup. -- John StevensonFrom the Inside Flap:
"Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award
The place is the chilly border between Russia and China. The time is the early 1970s when the two giants were poised on the brink of war. And the characters in this thrilling collection of stories are Chinese soldiers who must constantly scrutinize the enemy even as they themselves are watched for signs of the fatal disease of bourgeois liberalism.
In Ocean of Words, the Chinese writer Ha Jin explores the predicament of these simple, barely literate men with breathtaking concision and humanity. From amorous telegraphers to a pugnacious militiaman, from an inscrutable Russian prisoner to an effeminate but enthusiastic recruit, Ha Jin's characters possess a depth and liveliness that suggest Isaac Babel's Cossacks and Tim O'Brien's GIs. Ocean of Words is a triumphant volume, poignant, hilarious, and harrowing.
"A compelling collection of stories, powerful in their unity of theme and rich in their diversity of styles."--New York Times Book Review
"Extraordinary...[These stories are shot through with wit and offer glimpses of human motivation that defy retelling...Read them all."--Boston Globe
"An exceptional new talent, capable of wringing rich surprises out of austere materials."--Portland Oregonian
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Book Description Zoland Books, 1996. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110944072585