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The Boat Rocker: A Novel by Ha Jin
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The Boat Rocker: A Novel

by Ha Jin

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I am endlessly fascinated by immigrant stories. It seems to me such a brave thing to leave your home country and probably some close relations to go to a foreign land. It is especially amazing to me when people who do not speak the language of the country where they are heading. This is a novel about a Chinese man who followed his wife to New York City only to find when he got there that she was living with someone else and she wanted a divorce.

Feng Danlin managed to overcome that inauspicious beginning in the USA. He is a journalist working for an online news agency and he has quite a following among expatriate Chinese and also in China. One day his boss comes to him with the news that his ex-wife has written a book and her editor says even President George Bush is interested in it because it is a story that involves the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. There is so much hype surrounding this publication and Danlin and his boss feels it cannot be true. Danlin is given the job of finding out the truth about the book. Danlin reads some of the book chapters and finds that it is very poorly written; he also learns that there is no contract for translating the book into English nor is there, as was stated by the publisher, a movie deal for over a million dollars. Danlin writes a number of articles about the falsehoods and his ex-wife and her publisher fire back. Danlin's ex-wife vows that he will be sorry because she has state support. As the days go on Danlin is drawn further into the controversy. Several times he is offered inducements to let everything go but he refuses. He thinks he has the support of his boss but eventually he is left on his own and even is fired. He remains committed to telling the truth no matter the personal consequences.

This was an interesting book in terms of how the Chinese government operates but I felt the ending was weak. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 13, 2017 |
I can't believe this book was by the same author of "Waiting," and actually written after such a far superior book. Ha Jin takes raw materials that ought to be intriguing--a novel exploiting a fictitious "autobiographical" account of events including 9/11 with echoes of James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" scandal, and Chinese authoritarian control of journalism--and despite publishing this book in 2016, at a point in time when interest in government and media relations was at its highest in American history, manages to turn out a dry, emotionless, 200-page long dialogue that never seems to go anywhere. The main character discovers nothing interesting until about two chapters from the end, when suddenly, he discovers too late that he was right about everything, and can now do nothing. I don't doubt that there were some important political intentions buried in this horrible excuse for a plot somewhere, but they weren't teased out with any literary finesse in this work. This should have been a non-fiction op-ed, not a novel that wasted four hours of my life. ( )
1 vote quaintlittlehead | Feb 5, 2017 |
Born and educated in China, Ha Jin completed post graduate studies in the US and has made a career of writing about China in English. I read his A Map of Betrayal a while ago, and came to the conclusion that the plentiful awards this writer has won, are more in sympathy with his relentlessly anti-Chinese position than for his skill in writing. I found aspects of A Map of Betrayal unconvincing, and The Boat Rocker similarly flawed.

The occasional awkwardness of Ha Jin’s writing is signalled by the title. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a native speaker of English call someone who ‘rocks the boat’, a ‘boat rocker’. It sounds wrong, IMO, and a misuse of an idiomatic expression, though I’d have to concede that maybe American usage is different. But the author’s style is generally very plain and ordinary, and it’s not IMO salvaged by occasional florid passages describing food or clothes.

But the main problem with this book is its absurd plot.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/01/18/the-boat-rocker-by-ha-jin/ ( )
1 vote anzlitlovers | Jan 18, 2017 |
Did not finish. Dialogue very flat, cerebral. Just couldn't maintain my interest in it.
1 vote bjellis | Dec 5, 2016 |
The Boat Rocker, Ha Jin, author; Edoardo Ballerini, narrator
Feng Danlin and Yan Haili, were married in China. He was an unsophisticated, aspiring author, and she turned out to be a scheming young woman who also imagined herself as a writer, He loved her and believed her love for him was sincere. Since both partners in a marriage were not allowed to leave China together, she left for America first. After a couple of years, he insisted she bring him over. In China, his superior at work was inferior to him and therefore feared Danlin would replace him. He relentlessly harassed him. Danlin was ready to go to America.
When Danlin arrived in New York, exhausted from the journey, Yan Haili did not want to have a romantic reunion. Instead, she took him to a seedy inn, in Chinatown, gave him some cash and left saying she would return the following day. She did return, but not to reunite. She returned with divorce papers. Danlin was devastated. She had changed; she had moved on and abandoned him. Regardless of his pleas, she turned his own words against him. If he still loved her, how could he not want her happiness? These were the kinds of “inside-out” arguments that pervaded the book as Yan Haili, and those deceitful operatives she had become involved with, began to manipulate the system for their own benefit through lies, intimidation and corruption.
Danlin landed a job as an investigative journalist with GNA, (Global News Agency), known for exposing the truth about the corruption in the Chinese government as well as the media. When it became known to his boss that Danlin’s ex-wife, Haili, was publishing a non-fiction book purporting to be about her own experiences on 9/11, which was totally false, he assigned Danlin, the one who knew her best, to expose his wife and whoever was backing her. At first, he objected. He believed the public would think he was simply being vindictive. Still, his boss, Kaiming, insisted that he take the assignment. Her book, “Love and Death in September”, needed to be exposed for what it was, a lie.
When Danlin discovered that Haili had promoted still more lies, like George Bush was endorsing her book and a major publishing house had already agreed to publish her book, and there was also a major movie contract waiting for her, he exposed her in an article and received great acclaim. No one that she had named had corroborated her claims. Danlin’s fifteen minutes of fame was short-lived and came with huge consequences. When their crimes were revealed, those unsavory characters associated with and backing his wife, those strong arms who were in league with the Chinese government, retaliated against him with more false statements aimed to shame him and blacken his name. The fact that the charges they made against him were false was immaterial. The compatriots of his ex-wife were powerful back in China, and China was promoting this corrupt effort to influence the media and control information. If they controlled information, they could brainwash the public; they could control their knowledge.
Danlin was fighting an unknown establishment with great power to do him harm, yet he innocently seemed to forge ahead, with the encouragement of his boss. He expected to win because he believed that, in America, he had rights, and he was doing honorable work by exposing dishonesty. He believed he would be supported because he was righting a wrong. He believed in freedom; he believed in independence. He believed, that in the end, he would win. America and Americans would be behind him. Did he underestimate the dishonesty that existed even in America? Did he underestimate the idea that everyone was subject to a bribe for the right price? Slowly and subtly, the deceitful and malicious behavior of Haili and her cohorts revealed that the snake oil salesmen were aligned against him with powerful people supporting them. Job-like, he followed truth and justice, but his honesty was paid back with betrayals. The underhanded, secret tactics were revealed, but Danlin seemed to be the only one who cared, the only one who held high values and refused to recant his claims. His life was being turned upside down by his enemies, and he was being betrayed by his friends and fellow workers, yet he stayed the course. The more lies he exposed, the bigger the lies they told. Misinformation was running rampant and giving truth to the theory that a lie told often enough, indeed, does become the truth.
Danlin was maligned by the media and the Chinese government, the same government that had at first praised his efforts. Those with the least scruples were succeeding. Perhaps, he was naïve and honest to a fault, believing in the “goodness” of his new country, without reservation. It seemed that neither America nor China were what they were presented as, instead they conducted underhanded, devious deals, in back rooms, that skirted the law, without the public ever learning about them; if they did learn, it was too late to do anything about it.
The truth in this book is stranger than fiction as evidenced by a recent deal between China and J. P. Morgan that has just become public. In order to obtain financially favorable deals from the Chinese Government, they hired unqualified family members of the ruling class. In much the same way, this book’s plot is about the promotion of an unqualified author in order to gain control of the media industry in America. The Chinese knew if they controlled the media, they could control information; if they could control information, they could certainly control the people.
Since all concerned in the power bases of both countries generally wanted to protect the relationship between them, many injustices were often overlooked. This book surely exposed a clash of cultures in which one pretended to be perfectly high minded while the other blatantly played the game of manipulation. Both get away with their deceptions. However, in America, it is actually possible to expose corruption.
I believe that one truth is exposed, in this book, above all others. The media does control the dispensation of information. Whoever is in charge of the media, will ultimately control the ideas that are published, and the people’s view and understanding of those ideas will be influenced by whatever they choose to cover. The book removed the mask from the face of the government and the fourth estate. Corruption is everywhere. Still, in America, when one fails, one is able to start again, to renew efforts to succeed in a different direction. In China, however, one might be punished in some way, and that mark against them would keep them on the blacklist forever. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Nov 19, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307911624, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 01 Jun 2016 17:19:36 -0400)

"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. Hanli'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"--… (more)

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