The Boat Rocker, the latest novel from author Ha Jin, follows a journalist Feng Danlin as he becomes immersed in one particularly outrageous story.
Danlin, the book’s narrator, works for a Chinese newspaper located in New York, and is assigned a story about his ex-wife Haili. His articles begin reporting on suspicions about the hype being bred around Haili’s forthcoming novel–that they are all exploitative lies. As the narrative unfolds, it centers around both their personal relationship and antagonism, and the relationship between official Chinese media and independent journalists in the diaspora.
Throughout, Danlin remains stubborn in his pursuit of the truth, willing to make strong enemies and to put his personal life on the line. He struggles with his identity, his new American citizenship, and whether or not he owes any loyalty to his country of birth as a journalist.
Some interesting ideas are brought up by Ha Jin’s exploration of media, independent journalism, and integrity. But Danlin proves an irritating narrator in his continuous self-righteousness which persists through to the last page. As a result, The Boat Rocker chugs along slowly with Danlin shifting little in his views and the world around him shifting a lot.