A Map of Betrayal

Written by Ha Jin
Review by Viviane Crystal

Was the Chinese spy Gary Shang, who loved his homeland but also the country on which he is spying, a hero or a traitor? The story switches between Gary and his daughter Lillian’s narrative voices, past and present, providing different points of view on what it’s like for Gary to be a mole for Red China living in America with Lillian, his wife Nellie, and his mistress, Suzie.

At first Gary begins as an increasingly esteemed translator in Shanghai and later strategy analyst in the CIA at Langley, Virginia. The kind of political knowledge he sends home enables the Chinese to shape their own foreign policy toward Taiwan, Russia, Korea, and the United States over the course of forty years, beginning with the battle between Nationalist and Communist leaders and soldiers and ending with America’s sports and economic overtures to the Chinese government. Gary deeply ponders each of these conflicts as well as his battles with his own homesickness for his Chinese family, communications with his Chinese “minder,” and the complications ensuing over having a beloved family in America. Lillian’s search focuses on Gary’s story, as told through his family’s memories. The shadowed accounts weave a brilliant tapestry that appears to be quite the opposite of what the reader expects from the beginning to the shocking end.

Careful and consistent praise blinds Gary’s inflated ego to the reality about his service to both countries. This personal and professional duality highlights this beautifully crafted historical novel. A Map of Betrayal is the best Asian-American work of historical fiction this reviewer has read this year. Highly, highly recommended!