Such Genteel Flaming!

Adam Mars-Jones

  • The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin
    Pantheon, 222 pp, £20.00, October 2016, ISBN 978 0 307 91162 9

There’s a strange moment in Ha Jin’s new novel when the narrator, Feng Danlin, an expatriate Chinese journalist writing on culture and politics for an independent news agency based in New York, is asked by one of the organisers of a festival of Chinese culture, held in Berlin, to assess a dozen or so translated novels that have been chosen as representative of modern writing in China. Danlin seems to accept the weakness of the domestic product, not suggesting for instance that something has been lost in translation, and says only: ‘These authors are major names and are regarded as the best ones writing now.’ The organiser, Stefan, sighs and says, almost inaudibly: ‘That country has more than a billion people.’ He isn’t convinced that the festival, which cost more than a million euros to put on, was worth the trouble.

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