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'War Trash' Wins Ha Jin 2nd PEN/Faulkner Award

By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page C02

For "War Trash," a historical novel made both timely and more poetic by the events of today, Ha Jin has won the 2005 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for the second time, an achievement that ranks him with Philip Roth and John Edgar Wideman, the prize's only other two-time winners.

The word novel means "news of the world," Herbert Gold, one of the three judges, said yesterday, yet finding books that fulfill this definition can be difficult: How many stories are so urgently told that we must stop and listen? How many tales still surprise us?

Jin's novel tells of Chinese soldiers taken prisoner in the Korean War. (Jerry Bauer -- Random House)

Gold describes Jin's subject as: "The sense of what it was like for Chinese prisoners of war, imprisoned by Americans, during the Korean War." Once, that topic might have been seen as obscure. Today, it dovetails presciently with the tamped-down, secretive world of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

And yet the power of "War Trash" goes beyond that, said judge David Anthony Durham. It's a haunting, evocative novel about an "aging Chinese man visiting [his] immigrant family in America" -- a man who is "quietly here in our midst, ruminating on our history . . . [which] most of us have forgotten or never knew about, to begin with."

"When I closed 'War Trash,' I knew," he said. "It was like: I know this book is no heavier than any other, but the weight of the impact was much more profound."

The PEN/Faulkner is the largest peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States, according to the foundation, which administers the prize. The awards ceremony will be held at the Folger Library in May.

There, Jin will receive $15,000 and be joined by four finalists -- Jerome Charyn for "The Green Lantern"; Edwidge Danticat for "The Dew Breaker"; Marilynne Robinson for "Gilead"; and Steve Yarbrough for "Prisoners of War," each of whom will receive $5,000.

Jin last won the PEN/Faulkner Award, in addition to a National Book Award, for his 2000 novel "Waiting." A professor of English at Boston University, he has published two other novels, "The Crazed" and "The Bridegroom," along with two collections of poetry and two collections of short fiction.

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