Ocean of Words

Jin, Ha. Ocean of Words. New York: Vintage International, 1996.

Ocean of Words is made up of twelve short stories, all centered around Chinese soldiers on the brink of war with Russia in the early 1970s. In every story there is a Chinese soldier wrestling with suspicion, loyalty, individualism and power. They all wave weaknesses or flaws that render them human above all else. Each character possesses a depth of personality that leaves the reader thinking about him long after the story has ended.  I particularly liked the title story in which the “ocean of words” is a dictionary indexed in Chinese, Latin and English.

In order, the short stories are:

  • “A Report”
  • “Too Late”
  • “Uncle Piao’s Birthday Dinners”
  • “Love in the Air”
  • “Dragon Head”
  • A Contract”
  • “Miss Jee”
  • “A Lecture”
  • “The Russian Prisoner”
  • The Fellow Townsmen”
  • “My Best Soldier”
  • “Ocean of Words”

My favorite quotes, “Once you’re conquered by foreigners, you’ve lost everything” (p 27), “History is a mess of chances and accidents” (p 77), and “Mind modeling is more important” (p 174).

My favorite stories: “A Contract” and “Ocean of Words.”

Reason read: Celebrating Ha Jin’s birth month.

Author fact: Ocean of Words is Ha Jin’s first fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called, “China:the Middle Kingdom” (p 61).

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