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Can one remain a person in war? If so, what is the price? These questions will guide the engagement with the following works. Ha Jin's fictional memoir, War Trash, creates Yu Yuan, who recounts his life as a Prisoner of War in the hands of the American Military during the Korean War. He survives and builds an ordinary family in China. Yet, half a lifetime later, he feels the urge to finish the memoir, which he notes "the best gift a poor man like him" can "bequeath" to his grandchildren. Chang-rae Lee's novel A Gesture Life follows the streams of remembrance of an elderly immigrant, Franklin Hata, to his days as a Paramedic in Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. Now a retiree with decent success, Hata can neither seem to escape his past, particularly with his love for a Comfort Woman nor can he be a beloved single father to his adopted daughter. A final engagement with Primo Levi's famed memoir Se questo è un uomo, will provide a 'stage' on which the preceding two works of fictions can be in dialogue. Levi's testament to the beast-making environment of Auschwitz and his momentary absorbance in reciting Dante's Canto of Ulysses provide a special 'lens' through which both works can be illuminated. In addition, this reading allows a fruitful discussion of the relationship between fiction and history, between the mind and a text, and between the historically based text and its author.
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Tong, Bach Tuong, "The Price of Personhood in War" (2017). Senior Projects Spring 2017. 65.