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. She’s been mentioned as a contender for a Nobel Prize, though Feng knows she's “certainly not a gifted writer” and thinks all the attention is “getting more farcical by the hour.” 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. Is he paranoid? Could his ex-wife’s novel have more merit than he thinks? Is the fix really in? 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.