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The Boat Rocker

Cover of The Boat Rocker

The Boat Rocker

A Novel
by Ha Jin
From the universally admired, award-winning author of Waiting and War Trash: an urgent, timely novel that follows an aspiring author, an outrageous book idea, and a lone journalist's dogged quest for truth in the Internet age.
New York, 2005. Chinese expatriate Feng Danlin is a fiercely principled reporter at a small news agency that produces a website read by Chinese all over the world. Danlin's explosive exposés have made him legendary among readers—and feared by Communist officials. But his newest assignment may be his undoing: investigating his ex-wife, Yan Haili, an unscrupulous novelist who has willingly become a pawn of the Chinese government in order to realize her dreams of literary stardom.
Haili's scheme infuriates Danlin both morally and personally—he will do whatever it takes to expose her as a fraud. But in outing Haili, he is also provoking her powerful political allies, and he will need to draw on all of his journalistic cunning to come out of this investigation with his career—and his life—still intact. A brilliant, darkly funny story of corruption, integrity, and the power of the pen, The Boat Rocker is a tour de force.
From the Hardcover edition.
From the universally admired, award-winning author of Waiting and War Trash: an urgent, timely novel that follows an aspiring author, an outrageous book idea, and a lone journalist's dogged quest for truth in the Internet age.
New York, 2005. Chinese expatriate Feng Danlin is a fiercely principled reporter at a small news agency that produces a website read by Chinese all over the world. Danlin's explosive exposés have made him legendary among readers—and feared by Communist officials. But his newest assignment may be his undoing: investigating his ex-wife, Yan Haili, an unscrupulous novelist who has willingly become a pawn of the Chinese government in order to realize her dreams of literary stardom.
Haili's scheme infuriates Danlin both morally and personally—he will do whatever it takes to expose her as a fraud. But in outing Haili, he is also provoking her powerful political allies, and he will need to draw on all of his journalistic cunning to come out of this investigation with his career—and his life—still intact. A brilliant, darkly funny story of corruption, integrity, and the power of the pen, The Boat Rocker is a tour de force.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book ONE

    A week before the fourth anniversary of 9/11, my boss, Kaiming, barged into my office, rattling a three-page printout in his hands. "Look at this, Danlin," he said, dropping the papers on my desk. "This is outrageous! How could they claim that George W. Bush had agreed to endorse a book by Yan Haili? Everyone can tell it's a lie the size of heaven."

    I picked up the printout, an article from The Yangtze Morning Post. It raved about "a landmark novel," not yet released. I had recently signed a book contract myself and was used to the hyperbole of the book business, but it was the novelist's name, Yan Haili, that took my breath away. She was my ex-wife. That brassy bitch—she never stopped vying for attention.

    The article, printed in the newspaper's literary and art supplement, gushed that her novel, Love and Death in September, was an exotic, whirlwind love story, set by turns in North America, China, Australia, England, Russia, and France. Haili had been working on a potboiler for as long as I'd known her. She'd called it "a fabulous transnational romance." It was yet another project that she hadn't been able to finish. She had never succeeded in finding the center of the story, nor could she connect the various episodes into a plot with a satisfying ending. She had shelved the book again and again, and I'd thought the project was long abandoned. But now—I scanned the article in disbelief—her publisher was claiming the Administrative Office of the Chinese Communist Party had been contacted by the White House, and that President Bush would endorse the English translation of Haili's novel! Why? Because the book "embodied the cooperative spirit between the United States and China in the global war on terrorism." Shoot me if that was true.

    The bitch will never change, I realized. I wouldn't let her get away with it this time. I'd figure out a way to expose all her chicaneries and vanity. Even if she begged me on her knees, I wouldn't relent.

    "This is nonsense," I said to my boss. "The White House must be more interested in the author than in the book—I mean, in Yan Haili, to find out if she was secretly acting as a Chinese agent."

    "That's giving her too much credit," Kaiming said. "She's not smart enough to conduct espionage." He knew how much I hated my ex-wife—that our marriage had lasted only three years before she'd found someone else, and that I couldn't wait to get even with her. He sometimes called Haili "the heartless woman" in front of me.

    I said, "So what do you want me to do? This is an arts and culture story—I never write about this kind of thing in my column."

    "This time you will. This goes beyond books—I believe it's only one piece of a larger scam."

    I was pleased but didn't show it. I said cautiously, "Won't this be a conflict of interest?"

    "Conflict of interest? We're dealing with a bunch of scumbags who never do anything by the rules. You can't handle them by acting like a gentleman. I want you to throw all your fire into this case."

    "If you want me to expose this scam, you'd better have some idea how it got started."

    "I met Jiao Fanping, her publisher, in Beijing last month. Only he's not a true publisher—he's nothing but a profiteer. I want you to write something to expose their scheme before they embarrass lots of us Chinese here in America. We must nip this in the bud."

    "I'm afraid it's already blooming into an evil flower."

    "We can still pluck it off."

    "This will become personal." I tried to smile but felt my face tight.

    "I only want you to do the job." My boss...
About the Author-
  • HA JIN left his native China in 1985 to attend Brandeis University. He is the author of six previous novels, four story collections, three volumes of poetry, and a book of essays. He has received the National Book Award, two PEN/Faulkner Awards, the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, the Asian American Literary Award, and the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. In 2014 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Ha Jin lives in the Boston area and is director of the creative writing program at Boston University.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 29, 2016
    In his latest novel, Ha Jin (Waiting) takes aim at exploitative novels and international relations as he tells the story of Feng Danlin, a Chinese expatriate journalist living in New York and working for an independent, and influential, Chinese news agency. The year is 2005, and when word comes in that Danlin’s ex-wife, Yan Haili, has written a novel touted by the Chinese government as an instant worldwide bestseller, he pens several exposés concerning the book, challenging everything from the novel’s lackluster style and use of a 9/11 backdrop to Haili’s claims that she has signed a million-dollar-plus deal to adapt her tale into a Hollywood film. It isn’t long before Danlin’s articles gain traction and are reprinted throughout China. He finds himself celebrated by readers, but also the target of a series of verbal and written attacks by Haili and her entourage, and his boat rocking leaves many wondering if, by exposing Haili as a liar and the Chinese government as nefarious, Danlin may also be damaging potential Chinese/American interactions. Ha Jin stretches Danlin’s initial missives, though amusing, nearly to the point of repetitive exhaustion, yet as the novel shifts focus from small squabbles to a more worldly narrative dissecting homeland loyalty and international relationships, it gains momentum. Ha Jin’s prose is always pleasurable to read.

  • Rebecca Steinitz, The Boston Globe "At once hilarious and sobering, The Boat Rocker tells the story of Danlin's quest through a multifaceted journalistic detective story, exploration of the politics and economics of contemporary literature, polemic against contemporary China, meditation on Chinese expatriate life, and romantic revenge tale. The endearing Danlin is an obsessed narrator, ever eagle-eyed when it comes to the malfeasances of others, yet regularly blinded by his own vendettas; a self-admitted Don Quixote of the Internet era. . . . In The Boat Rocker, [Jin] shows what happens when truthful stories hit the wall of Chinese politics, and it's not pretty. At the same time, in crafting a memorable hero and a narrative that is both entertaining and thought-provoking, he affirms the value of fiction itself as . . . a powerful vehicle for the truths of our times."
  • Publishers Weekly "Ha Jin's prose is always pleasurable to read. . . . In his latest novel, Ha Jin (Waiting) takes aim at exploitative novels and international relations as he tells the story of Feng Danlin, a Chinese expatriate journalist living in New York and working for an independent, and influential, Chinese news agency. The year is 2005, and when word comes in that Danlin's ex-wife, Yan Haili, has written a novel touted by the Chinese government as an instant worldwide bestseller, he pens several exposés concerning the book, challenging everything from the novel's lackluster style and use of a 9/11 backdrop to Haili's claims that she has signed a million-dollar-plus deal to adapt her tale into a Hollywood film. It isn't long before Danlin's articles gain traction and are reprinted throughout China. He finds himself celebrated by readers, but also the target of a series of verbal and written attacks by Haili and her entourage, and his boat rocking leaves many wondering if, by exposing Haili as a liar and the Chinese government as nefarious, Danlin may also be damaging potential Chinese/American interactions."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred) "Since emigrating from his native China, Jin has earned considerable renown for his poetry, stories, and novels (Waiting won the National Book Award in 1999). But he's never been known as a barrel of laughs. What makes his latest so refreshing is that it's laugh-out-loud funny while being as illuminating as ever. The plot is simple enough: investigative reporter Feng Danlin, who narrates the book, works for a Chinese news agency in New York. His editor assigns him to unravel the true story behind a blockbuster novel by his ex-wife, Yan Haili, who dumped him on the day he traveled to America to join her and who's now written a romance that exploits 9/11 and is attracting international attention and million-dollar film deals--and even an endorsement from President George W. Bush. . . . The problem is that everything he writes in his exposés seems to some like the bitterness of a jilted husband whose own writing has never generated such interest. There are accusations about his failings as a husband, his misogyny, and his betrayal of China. As the plot thickens, it seems that not only does the Chinese government have a vested interest in the success of Haili's novel, but that American bureaucracy and Danlin's own employers have begun colluding against him. . . . The tensions extend well beyond the two antagonists, as relationships of male/female, fact/fiction, Chinese/American, freedom/fatalism, and ideals/realities are all thrown up for grabs, subverting conventional wisdom. The narrator ultimately realizes what an innocent he's been, and the reader shares the epiphanies of this pilgrim's progress."
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A Novel
Ha Jin
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