‘My Best Soldier’ by Ha Jin

This story, like all the others in the collection Ocean of Words, is set on a Chinese army base by the Russian border during the Cultural Revolution. In ‘My Best Soldier’, an army officer must deal with a soldier whose libidinous impulses run contrary to official doctrine. The story first attracted me as a window into a previously unimaginable world. The clarity of the vision – the ability to tell a story so other and yet so familiar – belies the skill of its creation: what seems simple is in fact understated, wry, and tightly controlled. And despite the shocking events that occur, every character can be understood sympathetically as people subject to forces beyond their ken or control.

First published in English in AGNI 33, 1991. Collected in Ocean of Words, Zoland, 1996

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