Monday, January 26, 2015

A Map of Betrayal

A Map of Betrayal
© 2014 Ha Jin
304 pages


When  Lillian Shang touched down in mainland China, her official purpose was to teach. Unofficially, however, she was there to learn -- to uncover the truth of her father's life by tracking down the family he left behind. Daddy dearest was exposed as a top-level Chinese spy embedded in the CIA in 1980, and when he committed suicide he left behind two wives, families in two hemispheres, and a lot of questions. With the help of a journal and a few estranged relatives, Lillian discovers her father -- a deeply tortured man, torn by love for two nations. A Map of Betrayal uses the life of fictional Gary Shang to make personal the history of the Cold War, of relations between the Soviet Union, China, and the United States. In alternating chapters, Ha Jin tells the story of Shang's life and his grown-up daughter's attempt to come to terms with his legacy.  Only a young man when he accepted orders from the Chinese government to seek employment at an American cultural office and start forwarding relevant information to the Party,  Shang found the job inescapable. No matter how far it took him from home -- to Okinawa, and eventually even to the United States -- the Party insisted he stay embedded therein.  Not only was Shang forced to leave his young wife and child behind, but eventually, as the decades passed, he grew to love the American nation which adopted him as its own, even as he maintained a private allegiance to another. Shang's attempts to find a way to serve both countries, to love both families, make him an enormously sympathetic character, even for a spy of the Communist state.  Although Lillian is the narrator of the novel, Gary is truly its star, and his story -- gathered in full for the first time by his daughter -- allows his Chinese family to reconsider their own lives, especially a grandson who is also employed by Beijing's intelligence service.  A Map of Betrayal fascinates with its literary look into not only Cold War China, but the soul of a spy who loved that which he betrayed.

Related:
The Mao Case, Qui Xiaolong


[2015 Reading Challenge 5/52: Book Set in Another Country]

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