The Boat is the first novel from Vietnamese Australian writer Nam Le. It is a collection of seven short stories that feature inter-related themes. These stories cover a wide range of places, including Iran, Japan, Australia, New York, and Colombia. They also span a large amount of time—nearly six decades.
One of the major themes that ties most of the stories together is survival. Characters in each story are pushed to their limits and forced to survive despite circumstances working against them. For example, "Hiroshima" is the story of an orphaned girl named Mayako who loses her parents in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She's forced to move on without them.
"Cartagena" tells the story of a group of teenage assassins in Colombia. Here, Le expertly explores the social and economic circumstances that have forced the teens into this lifestyle. They were put in a position where they had to fend for themselves in order to survive. For them, that meant embracing the violence all around them and joining a gang.
"Tehran Calling" centers around Sarah Middleton, a lawyer who decides to visit an Iranian colleague named Parvin in Tehran. Here, she encounters difficulties and learns about the tragedies that have befallen Parvin throughout his life. For example, his brother died in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Again, his story is one of survival.
The theme of survival is present throughout most the stories in The Boat. This indicates the author's interest in exploring what it takes to survive. He puts his characters in harrowing situations and asks readers to watch how they respond.