A Map of Betrayal By Ha Jin

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    I’m a big fan of Ha Jin. To have originated in China, his English language skills are amazing. Perhaps I find all his novels interesting because I have been lucky enough to travel to China and was able to observe their culture.

    History, especially political history is not my forte. So, I enjoy an easy to read historical fiction novel that allows me to learn about something that I previously possessed hazy knowledge. The Politics between the USA, China, Russia, Korea, and Taiwan between the years of 1949 and 1980 are fascinating. Who could NOT remember the stress of the Bay of Pigs or the assassination of JFK? Ha Jin writes of major historical events while still maintaining an interesting story. It helps that one of his main characters is a Chinese spy infiltrating the CIA.

    The book jacket summarizes the plot well. What Ha Jin adds in his novel are Chinese cultural nuances. You’ll learn what a “little third” means in China. Jin gets in his feelings of China’s lack of infrastructure. He’s not a big enthusiast of China.

    Also, I enjoy some of his insights “They mistook verbosity for eloquence and ambiguity for beauty, worshiping the evasive and the fuzzy while looking down on lucidity and straightforwardness.” I’m a big fan of straightforwardness, which is how Jin writes. And Jin provides a George Bernard Shaw quote: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself; therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

    I recommend this book to historical novel devotees, especially if you are interested in the Chinese culture. This novel is straightforward and easy to read. The plot is entertaining and the characters are well developed.
    Hardcover What has turned out to be a timely read. Going to work this morning I heard that the US postal service has been hacked and that the hackers were possibly located in China. This is a novel about a man, who was a Chinese spy for decades.

    Starting from 1949 Gary was hired as a translator forma US company, eventually ending up in the United States working for Mao and the Chinese government. Leaving his young wife in China, he was never able to return, and eventually, encouraged by his handler, to start a new family in the US. It is his American daughter Lilian, given his journals by his mistress, who sets out to track his family in China.

    In very subtle, understated prose this is about a man, conflicted between the love of his home country and his growing love for the United States. Conflicted also between the guilt he feels for leaving his family in China and the love he feels for his life and for his daughter in the US. It covers an amazing amount of history, from the Cuban missile crisis to the assassination of President Kennedy. China and Russia's collusion and China becoming a nuclear power. Their break from Russia and the growing hostilities that ensued. What he is told from his handlers about the starving masses in China, caused by the Great Leap forward.

    As Ha Jin is now writing in the US, leaving China after that governments actions at Tiananmen Square, this book was written with a great deal of knowledge and authority. A very good story about a man who convinced himself he was doing the best thing for both his countries. Hardcover I was very excited to read this book and actually voted to include it in our Holiday Catalog. But after finishing it, I have to say I was so disappointed that I took my nomination away. The story is about a Chinese man, Gary Shang, who grows up in China during WWII. He becomes a spy for the Chinese government and takes a job as a translator for the CIA. He lives a dual life, with a wife in China and his American family in the US, and for decades, he passes secrets to the Chinese government. The novel is trying to depict the inner conflict he feels between his loyalty to his mother country and the admiration to his new home.

    There were several things that bothered me about this book. First, I did not find Gary Shang to be a sympathetic character. Rather than feeling guilt about his betrayal of the US, his primary concerns were about self preservation. He showed no loyalty or faithfulness to his American wife, keeping a mistress through most of his life, so it seems odd to think that he would be torn up about loyalties to 2 countries. But my biggest gripe about this book was its portrayal of the immigrant experience in America. Gary Shang came to the US in the 1950’s right after WWII. He has no problems integrating into American society or finding an American wife. That completely does not ring true. My parents emigrated from China to the US post WWII and they did experience quite a bit of racism and bigotry. The US had just finished a war with the Japanese and were understandably wary of Asians. Jhumpa Lahiri’s books do a wonderful job depicting that difficult immersion into another society. Ha Jin makes it seem like a walk in the park. Not to mention that interracial marriage was pretty rare and was very shocking to many people, and illegal in many states in the 1950s. And the other subtle point that bothered me was similarly how his daughter who is half Chinese and half Caucasian is able to pass herself off as completely Chinese while traveling in China. Having 2 Eurasian children and knowing dozens more, I can’t think of a single example where a Eurasian would be mistaken for a Chinese person. Not to mention that even ABCs (American Born Chinese) can’t pass themselves off as native Chinese. Our dress, our mannerisms, the way we walk and talk, etc. make us stand out.

    I’m sure this book will appeal to some – but definitely not my cup of Jasmine tea!
    Hardcover About a third of the way through A Map of Betrayal, Ha Jin writes this about graduate students: “They mistook verbosity for eloquence and ambiguity for beauty, worshipping the evasive and fuzzy while looking down on lucidity and straightforwardness.”

    Indeed, Ha Jin himself believes in lucidity and straightforwardness – arguably, to a fault. His latest book chronicles the story of post-war Chinese translator Gary Shang, reportedly based on the real-world Chinese spy, Larry Chin.

    Gary Shang straddles two worlds. A loyal Chinese Communist, he is reasonably content in a newly-arranged marriage and in the presumably temporary position he has working for the Americans. When the Americans leave, they ask Gary to go with them – a boon for Gary’s Communist handlers. Gradually, he settles into a double life, married to the narrator (Lilian’s) Irish-American mother, and torn between his love for the country he lives in versus the country he left…and still loves.

    It’s all fascinating stuff, but I couldn’t help but feel as if Ha Jin was torn between presenting his readers with a history lecture or focusing on the fictional world he creates. There are many insights into the 1950s and 1960s mileau (including John Foster Dulles’ desire to use a nuke on Red China). And there are many passages like this one on Vietnam: “Some Chinese army hospitals south of Kunming City has been treating wounded Vietcong soldiers. It looked like China was becoming the rear base of North Vienam. If the Chinese continued backing up the Vietcong on such a scale, there’d be no way the Americans could win the war.”

    So I come back to my first paragraph: can straightforwardness embrace eloquence and ambiguity? It can, but not always here. In the end, I learned a lot but wasn’t quite able to immerse myself in a fictional world. Like Gary Shang, Ha Jin seemed to want it both ways.
    Hardcover Who is the betrayed, and who the betrayer? It’s clear from the outset that there’s plenty of blame to spread around in this deeply engaging novel about a Chinese mole in the CIA.

    Gary (nee Weimin) Shang is a young secret agent for Mao Tse-Tung’s Communists in the culminating days of the Revolution. A graduate of prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, sometimes referred to as China’s Harvard, he is singled out by his handlers to infiltrate an American intelligence unit in Shanghai which later moves to Okinawa, then to suburban Washington, DC, and is finally absorbed into the CIA itself. Despite begging his handlers at every turn to permit him to return to his wife and children in rural China, Shang is progressively more and more generously rewarded as he rises through the ranks through three decades. He marries an American woman and fathers a daughter, the principal narrator of the novel. The tale is told decades following Shang’s unmasking and conviction of espionage, in first-person chapters narrated by his Chinese-American daughter alternating with third-person accounts of Shang’s life through the decades.

    The author, Ha Jin, experienced first-hand the tumultuous events portrayed in A Map of Betrayal, having lived his first three decades in China. His depiction of the Great Leap Forward and the tragic famine that followed, the Cultural Revolution, and the internecine warfare within the Chinese Communist Party during and after Mao’s final years is the stuff history is made of. By placing his protagonist at the center of US-China relations during the 1960s and 70s, Jin tells the little-known story of the touch-and-go relationship of the two aggressive world powers with a knowing touch, showing an understanding of the complex dynamics at work on both sides.

    A Map of Betrayal is not a cookie-cutter spy novel. The suspense (not knowing) is subtle, and the action moves forward at a deliberative pace. In the end, the book is fully satisfying for its insight into the complex human dynamics at play in any difficult relationship — and what relationship isn’t?

    Jin Xuefei, who writes under the pen name Ha Jin, joined the People’s Liberation Army during the Cultural Revolution, leaving at age nineteen for university studies. A decade later, he was on a scholarship at Brandeis University when the Chinese government violently suppressed the student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The incident moved him to emigrate and to write in English “to preserve the integrity of his work.” The author of numerous novels and volumes of poetry and short stories, he has won a passel of literary awards, including the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. He currently teaches at Boston University. Hardcover

    From the award-winning author of Waiting and War Trash: a riveting tale of espionage and conflicted loyalties that spans half a century in the entwined histories of two countries—China and the United States—and two families.

    When Lilian Shang, born and raised in America, discovers her father's diary after the death of her parents, she is shocked by the secrets it contains. She knew that her father, Gary, convicted decades ago of being a mole in the CIA, was the most important Chinese spy ever caught. But his diary - an astonishing chronicle of his journey from 1949 Shanghai to Okinawa to Langley, Virginia - reveals the pain and longing that his double life entailed. The trail leads Lilian to China, to her father's long-abandoned other family, whose existence she and her Irish American mother never suspected.

    As Lilian begins to fathom her father's dilemma - torn between loyalty to his motherland and the love he came to feel for his adopted country - she sees how his sense of duty distorted his life. But as she starts to understand that Gary, too, had been betrayed, she finds that it is up to her to prevent his tragedy from damaging yet another generation of her family. A Map of Betrayal


    A Map of Betrayal, the story of Gary Shang, a Chinese spy who served as a translator for the CIA, is a slow paced account of Gary’s activities from 1949 to 1980 and his daughter’s search to discover who her father really was. Accounts of the progress of relations between China and Russia were interesting but the book moved at an uneven pace frequently getting bogged down in details such as food or clothing which didn’t serve to add to the focus of the story-the conflict Gary felt between his loyalties to his homeland and the affection he had come to feel for his adopted home of America. Hardcover Khác xa Đợi chờ, Con đường phản bội là cuộc đấu tranh hướng ra ngoại hàm - giữa quê hương xứ sở và khát khao tự do, của một gián điệp nhị trùng, nhưng cũng đồng thời là của chính ông như một tiểu thuyết bán tự truyện về nội tâm mình. Văn học di dân luôn bị gắn mác một mặt nào đó như là 'phản động', nhưng với Trung Quốc dưới chính ngòi bút ở nơi Ha Jin, ta không kịp thẩy những dòng chụp mủ hay là đánh đồng những lời vô tri. Trung Quốc trong Con đường phản bội đầy đủ sắc thái, biến một người ái quốc mù quáng thành ra nhận thấy tự do. Ha Jin lại một lần nữa dồn ép những nhân vật đàn ông của mình. Nếu Đợi chờ là lão Lâm với cuộc tình tay 3, thì Con đường phản bội là Gary với nước Mỹ, với Trung Quốc, với nỗi cô độc và khát khao yêu đương. Tác phẩm này chưa đựng rất nhiều cảm xúc trong cách dẫn dắt tuyến tính, trung tính nhưng đầy mê hoặc, với Con đường phản bội nỗi nhớ quê hương đã phát triển thành nỗi đau âm ỉ trong tim, làm cho con người ta trở nên mụ mẫm không thể thoát ra, một thiên đường mù dang tay chờ đón. Hardcover Lately, we’ve been consumed with how our own government is spying on us, but, of course, there are foreign agents peering at us, too. My friends in the game say corporate espionage — stealing manufacturing and software secrets — is where the action is now, which is enough to make an old spook pine for the Cold War. Those were the days when monomaniacal leaders banged on about their superior ideologies and the fate of the earth hung on just one launch code. Whatever the wisdom of risking humanity, those decades produced some fine le Carré novels, and we’ve still got FX’s superb TV drama “The Americans.”

    While that show presents a pair of slick spies from the Soviet Union, Ha Jin’s new novel, “A Map of Betrayal,” looks toward China. The action, as might be expected from this famously modulated writer, is more Walter Mitty than Walter Raleigh. Jin’s anti-hero is Gary Shang, “the biggest Chinese spy ever caught in North America.” If that superlative conjures up an underwear model flying a helicopter through the Lincoln Tunnel and dispatching enemies with toxic lip balm, you need to calm down right now. “A Map of Betrayal” is the perfect thriller for the reader with a heart condition. Gary is a torpid man who works as a translator for the CIA in the Washington area. He’s neither shaken nor stirred.

    This tale of betrayals and disappointments is a natural one for Ha Jin to publish. As a teenager, he served in the People’s Liberation Army and survived the Cultural Revolution. But he watched the Tiananmen Square massacre from Brandeis University, where he was finishing a dissertation on American literature. Disillusioned by his country, he never returned. “To preserve the integrity of my work,” he said several years ago, “I had no choice but to write in English.” That has proved a spectacularly successful choice. He’s since won a National Book Award and two PEN/Faulkner awards.

    “A Map of Betrayal” explores themes of alienation and “bone-deep loneliness” that Ha Jin has written about in such novels as “Waiting” and “A Free Life,” but with an extra element of intrigue. The story comes to us along two time frames. In the present day, a middle-aged American woman named Lilian describes her efforts to piece together the duplicitous life of her late father, the convicted spy Gary Shang (loosely based on the true story of Larry Wu-Tai Chin). Her sudden interest is inspired by receiving six volumes of his secret diary, in which he recorded his life from 1949 to 1980, when he was finally caught by the FBI.

    “There was no denying that my father had been a top spy,” Lilian says, “but the more I worked on his materials, the more I was convinced that money hadn’t been the primary motivation in his espionage for China. . . . I came to believe that he’d been not only a betrayer but also someone who’d been betrayed.”

    While Lilian is describing her search for her father’s abandoned family in China, alternating chapters present Gary’s life through the decades of political and military turmoil. “A historian by profession,” Lilian says, “I wanted to tell it in my own fashion while remaining as objective as possible.” Usually, that sort of claim to objectivity is an irony marker as subtle as the Washington Monument, but in this case, that’s exactly what she provides: an efficiently detailed story of a modest man pulled away from his family and into spycraft by twisted strands of patriotism, egotism and naivete.

    Starting in the years after the war, when the tension between Taiwan and China seems always ready to explode, “A Map of Betrayal” sweeps by like a time-lapse photo of geopolitical conflict. Embracing his “protracted mission,” Gary does whatever he can to relay information about the American’s uneasiness with Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek, their efforts to deal with Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviets’ ever-expanding nuclear arsenal. “Despite the distance of an ocean and a continent, he could feel China’s pulse,” Ha Jin writes, “which beat irregularly, racing feverishly, as though he could at last grasp intimately his vast homeland in its entirety.” At the same time, in his faux job at the CIA, he makes an effort to shade his translations in hopes of prodding the United States to be more cautious. In other words, he imagines himself, from his tiny office, steering the superpowers toward peace and their mutual interests.

    Hewing to the historical facts, Ha Jin makes little effort to dramatize the methods of espionage with nail-biting drop-offs, arcane codes or false mustaches. Year after year, Gary carries out “his simple, casual fashion of conducting espionage.” He takes documents home, photographs or summarizes them, passes the information on to Beijing. Money appears in his bank account, and life in Alexandria rolls along. He’s marooned, a “nameless hero . . . on the invisible front.” The psychological damage wears on him like the effects of a bad diet, and that’s the real subject of this novel. Gary is a man trapped in a peculiar conspiracy of circumstance and character. “His heart was always elsewhere,” Jin writes. “Wherever he went, he’d feel out of place, like a stranded traveler.”

    Cut off, for security reasons, from his wife and children in China, he’s encouraged to start a family in America, but that entanglement of affection and deception brings him no joy. In his lifelong pursuit of secret knowledge, he never managed to accept the obvious fact that he was being irreparably used by the motherland. Years later, Gary’s old handler tells Lilian, “A nail must remain in its position . . . and rot with the wood it’s stuck in, so a spy of the nail type is more or less a goner.”

    One of the great collateral benefits of Lilian’s investigation of her father is her always astute comments about contemporary China, a land racing toward capitalism while still haunted by the horrors of starvation and massive social disruption. And as she uncovers the details of Gary’s espionage, she discovers troubling truths about others’ capacity for deception, including herself. But her placid voice never betrays any emotion beyond earnest curiosity. Her regard for her father — the man who raised her in what she now realizes was a web of lies — betrays almost no psychological entanglement. There’s a special poignancy in the closing pages, but the novel’s restrained tone makes the whole enterprise feel too severely pruned for such a world-spanning and fraught tale.

    This review first appeared in The Washington Post:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/enterta... Hardcover It’s difficult to believe that you are reading fiction when you read A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin. You may also entertain the preconceived notion that you find foreign books boring or dense with historical references you will not understand. You will not need to understand Chinese history to be fascinated by this story, although you may learn some things about China.

    This author has classified this story as a work of fiction but my gut keeps saying that “only the names have been changed”. There is no reason to believe that my gut is talented at perception: this willingness to “suspend my disbelief” is most likely due to the author’s skills at storytelling.

    Ha Jin chooses Lilian Shang to be our narrator. She has in her possession the diaries left by her father. She already knows that her Dad, called Weimin in China but Gary Shang in the US, translator for the CIA in Washington, DC, was actually a Chinese spy. He was exposed and arrested just as he was considering retirement. Lilian has all the articles from the newspapers about his trial. She knows he was found guilty and sent to prison.

    As a child Lilian did not ever see any signs that her father was a spy. Her Mom, Nellie, an American, also did not have any knowledge of her husband’s covert activities, although Gary betrays Nellie in another sense. Lilian learns, among other things, that her father has another wife in China; a wife he is never able to see. He has children he knows nothing about and grandchildren.

    The story does not show us a cold-blooded spy who hated the country he was embedded in or even a man who came to betray his native China. Gary Shang is full of complex emotions about the wife he left behind. He is led to believe that she is being taken care of financially due to the risks he takes as a spy. He is led to believe that he is some kind of national hero, although his work is known only to those in power. When Lilian goes to China to find her father’s other family, her relatives, and to teach at a university in Beijing, she learns how China really treated her Dad’s first wife and her Dad, who betrayed his adopted country, America, but never the country of his birth.

    I have always been “gobsmacked” by Mao and his Cultural Revolution. He just tipped China like a chessboard and tossed all of the pieces around. Except that China is a giant chessboard with millions of people. Mao took scholars and made them work the farms and he put the farmers in charge of local governments. Talk about redistribution! As you can imagine, if you don’t already know, havoc and misery ensued. This Cultural Revolution may not have hit Gary Shang, he only read about it in the press, but it certainly affected his family.

    If you think Gary Shang had the best of both worlds until he was arrested you would be wrong. His diaries reveal his loneliness and his guilt. Ha Jin has given us a new take on a spy story and still in the back of my mind I feel that this could easily be a true story masquerading as fiction. The author gets to make that call, however, and if there had been a real spy in America like Gary Shang he would be known to all of us, although by another name.

    Once again this is nothing like the Bourne books or 007 or stories full of action and modern spycraft. The way Gary Shang was a spy required a loyalty and a quiet dedication that is difficult to see as heroic under the circumstances, but that surely was of great value to his beloved China. It was a life that involved periods of great internal struggle for Gary Shang and one that might prove impossible for today’s citizens who are addicted to instant gratification and acknowledgment. Trudging silently along, with only the occasional desire to revolt against the machine, is hardly our style. This is a book of subtle understandings. Ha Jin is an author who is always on my wish list.
    Hardcover This is a novel that doesn't quite work for me as either a compelling spy story or as a fictional doorway into history, although that is the main reason to read it. It provides the author with a platform to reflect on US-China interactions during the second half of the 20th century and to present aspects of the Chinese-American experience. It's an okay read, but not a book I would recommend to friends. Themes of interest to me were: spies who may grow to want to serve two countries; patriotism and nationalism; the role of nationalism in our world today; the complexity of opinions surrounding the Chinese and Chinese Americans about their country; how family bonds trump nationalism.

    It was about halfway through the book that I became uber-critical of the author's tendency to always provide physical descriptions of individuals that were pretty irrelevant and at times judgmental, especially with a sort of name-calling. I also felt that he was unable to authentically provide a steady, real, and feminine voice for Lillian, his protagonist. There is rampant use of colloquial phrases in dialogue, perhaps in an attempt to make dialogue sound more down to earth. Also, I found it highly unlikely that Gary Sheng would have kept a diary detailing his spy work and his feelings about his home country and the U.S. To do so simply would have been too risky.

    Sample sources of irritation:

    she was slightly thick-boned but looked smart and energetic Who is he to play the judge here on appearance? Would Lillian really have summarily criticized the appearance of her nephew's girlfriend
    in that way? Sounds false.

    what a flameout

    Lillian: I had to manage his paltry retirement plan for him (would this university professor have put it in such a petulant way?)

    the flat-chested cross-examiner

    the pot-bellied....