A Map of Betrayal: A Novelby Ha Jin
A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year
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.
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A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year
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 as a Communist intelligence agent, reveals the pain and longing that his double life entailed—and point to a hidden second family that he’d left behind in China. As Lilian follows her father’s trail back into the Chinese provinces, she begins to grasp the extent of his dilemma: he is a man 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, and as she starts to understand that Gary too had been betrayed, Lilian finds that it is up to her to prevent his tragedy from endangering yet another generation of Shangs.
A stunning portrait of a multinational family and an unflinching inquiry into the meaning of citizenship, patriotism, and home, A Map of Betrayal is a spy novel that only Ha Jin could write.
From the National Book Award– and PEN/Faulkner-winning author Jin (Waiting) comes a woman’s inquisition into the limits of her father’s loyalty to his nation and family. The narrative alternates between the present day and the years spanning 1949 to 1989. In the present, American-born Lillian Shang unravels her father Gary’s mysterious life as a U.S.-based Chinese spy feeding information to the Mao administration. She pieces together his evolution from student, to spy, then prisoner—he ultimately ended up being a high-profile mole caught by the CIA. Lillian undertakes her research primarily through Gary’s extensive diaries, bequeathed to Lillian by his longtime mistress. Gary’s story is too messy for journalistic prose alone, so Lillian travels to northeast China to connect with his other family. In doing so, she sees the pervasive duplicity that defined Gary’s life abroad; his family members know little about what’s happened to him since leaving decades before. When Lillian’s husband is embroiled in a dubious microchip scheme with a newly acquainted Chinese cousin, the FBI materializes and Lillian must evaluate whether to respond with familial fidelity or self-preservation. Jin’s subtle prose entrances; he divulges information measuredly, almost reluctantly. The result is a captivating tale that probes the Chinese political state over the past half century. (Nov.)
—Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor
“One of the great triumphs of A Map of Betrayal is how it uncovers and underscores the similarities between the domestic and the political, the family and the larger culture. . . . Lilian strives not to judge but to understand. She searches for a capacious, forgiving, and subtle interpretation of a struggling soul. Gary’s contradictions, rationalizations, and defenses are humanized in a way that makes his life-defining reversals believable Even as he acts in duplicitous ways, we empathize with him, isolated and lonely in an unfamiliar country, falsely reassured by his handler that his Chinese family is being well taken care of, striving to be a good employee and patriot.”
—Priscilla Gilman, The Boston Globe
“Ha, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier who has spent his adult life as an academic in the U.S., deftly explores the parallels between an immigrant’s experience and an informant’s—the ambivalence, the delusion, the sense of warring loyalties.”
—The New Yorker
“The book stands out for the way it straddles a number of worlds—China and the U.S., family life and adultery—and in Shang's case, the torturous inner life of a man torn between loyalty to two nations.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR
“Continues his astute examination of the immigrant Chinese experience in this country. . . . A fascinating window into contemporary China, especially the life of young men and women: their dating practices, their use of new technology, and their uneasy relationship with the Chinese government. . . . Ha Jin’s writing has a serene simplicity. He slowly and deliberately constructs the edifice of his narrative, and because of this gradual buildup and Gary’s apparent resignation to his fate, the last third of the novel packs a powerful punch that is both poignant and unexpected. It is comforting as a reader to be in the hands of such a masterful storyteller.”
—David Takami, The Seattle Times
“With one foot in China and the other in the United States, Ha Jin is the quintessential Chinese-American writer. . . . In his absorbing new book, A Map of Betrayal, the author offers his most searing portrait yet of divided loyalties.”
—Kevin Nance, Chicago Tribune
“International intrigue and familial secrets merge in A Map of Betrayal, a subtle page-turner by the National Book Award-winning author of Waiting. In the vein of John le Carré, Ha Jin delves into his profoundly ambivalent antihero Gary Shang, a high-ranking CIA translator who passed state secrets to operatives in Mao’s China from 1949 until 1980, when he was finally outed as a mole. . . . The novel expertly chronicles the fraught relationship between the U.S. and modern China with plainspoken clarity. . . . A Map of Betrayal works on two levels—as a startling thriller about a double agent whose carefully regimented life falls apart as soon as his cover gets blown, and as a moving family saga, the story of a hardworking immigrant father whose reticence masks wells of deeply held secrets.”
—Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
“With a National Book Award, two PEN/Faulkners and a Pulitzer nomination under his belt, Ha Jin is one of America's most decorated living novelists. He's made a name for himself writing beautiful stories centered in China, where he was born and raised. . . . In a way, A Map of Betrayal is an innovative twist on an immigrant novel, exploring themes of identity, assimilation and confused loyalties through the high-stakes narrative of a spy novel. . . . A poignant novel that portrays the emotional drama of an immigrant torn apart by conflicting loyalties and ‘bone-deep loneliness.’ ‘If only he could become a citizen of both countries, a man of the world,’ comes Gary's lament. He may be a traitor and a superspy, but his tragedy is relatable, almost simple. It should strike many close to home.” —Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times
“A lonely Chinese spy is forced to leave his young wife and remarry in the U.S. in this compassionate study of a man caught between two wives and two countries. . . . Jin quietly piles up facts, creating an impossible situation in which a good, patriotic man becomes emotionally entangled with two nations intent on deceiving each other. A confident and knowledgeable explicator of China, Jin probes the failure of the Great Leap Forward, the inequity between country Chinese and city Chinese, Internet censorship, the national problems of food contamination and the illiteracy of more than half the population, while placing historical touches throughout (such as the Russian astronaut dog Laika and the Kennedy assassination). . . . Written without the slightest whiff of melodrama, in a cool, factual, unadorned style, A Map of Betrayal is a quietly humane, painstakingly detailed portrait of an idealistic man who tries to set himself morally apart. Ever present in this dense, compelling tale are provocative questions about the nature of patriotism: When do you betray your country? When does your country betray you?” —Nick DiMartino, Shelf Awareness
“Ha Jin has captured the painful, often humdrum essence of the hidden agent. . . . In chapters alternating with Gary’s chronological story, Ha Jin follows the journey of Gary’s half-American daughter, Lilian, as she searches for the truth about her father by reading his diaries and by traveling to modern-day China. We see America through the eyes of a Chinese émigré, torn between an old loyalty and growing affection for the adopted land he is betraying. Simultaneously, we see China through the eyes of his daughter, discovering whatever she can about the family her father left behind. . . . [Ha Jin] is a voice at once outside and inside the culture.” —Ben Macintyre, front cover, The New York Times Book Review
“A Map of Betrayal is the gripping story of a daughter coming to terms with her family history, set against a backdrop of political change. . . . A haunting tale of two families and two countries that are linked together by the life of a single spy. . . . Poignant . . . . The novel closes with a delicate, ironic twist that one associates with the best of Jin’s fiction.” —Lauren Bufferd, BookPage
“Jin doesn't lead you, blindfolded and sweating, around countless corners to deliver cheap surprises. His writing—clean, simple, and engaging—instead focuses on the risks that Gary and his American daughter, Lilian, have taken to find continuity in their homes and families. . . . Jin bridges the gap between character and reader. I've never been a spy and am not from an immigrant family, but I felt Gary's isolation and Lilian's desperation as my own. By transferring these emotions to the reader, Jin has created more than a novel; he has crafted an experience. A Map of Betrayal is not just something that entertains but something that teaches.” —Jared Shaffer, Everyday eBook
“Beautifully written. . . . Brilliant fiction, a story of shifting personal loyalties across broad swaths of territory, that can only be done by one with a deep knowledge of two cultures: in [Jin’s] case, China and America.” —Michael D. Langan, Buffalo News
“Ha Jin presents a chillingly matter-of-fact tale of espionage and treachery told in alternating narratives. . . . [As this] brooding, many-layered story of delusion and betrayal suspensefully unfolds, Ha Jin offers startlingly redefining views of the strategic evolution of U.S.-Chinese relations during the nuclear arms race, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and Ping-Pong diplomacy. A sharply ironic, stealthily devastating tale of the tragic cost of ‘blind’ patriotism, told by a master of clarifying fiction, uniting the personal and the geopolitical.” —Booklist (starred)
"Like his exquisite National Book Award-winning Waiting, Jin's latest is a meticulous observation of a manipulated life only partially lived. . . . [Jin] deftly plots a family history caught between uncompromising attachments and inevitable betrayals. Spy story it may be, but what lingers is the immeasurable human toil."
—Library Journal (starred)
“From the National Book Award– and PEN/Faulkner-winning author Jin (Waiting) comes a woman’s inquisition into the limits of her father’s loyalty to his nation and family. . . . Jin’s subtle prose entrances. . . . A captivating tale that probes the Chinese political state over the past half century.”—Publishers Weekly (boxed, starred)
“Masterful and bittersweet storytelling that operates on a number of different levels . . . Satisfies like the best of John le Carré, similarly demystifying and deglamorizing the process of gathering information and the ambiguous morality that operates in shades of gray . . . The issues of love and loyalty that permeate the novel aren’t merely political, but deeply personal.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
A plainspoken, even reticent narrative illuminates the complex loyalties of a Chinese-American spy, who considers himself a patriot of both countries. As a novel of espionage, the latest from the prizewinning author (Waiting, 1999, etc.) satisfies like the best of John le Carré, similarly demystifying and deglamorizing the process of gathering information and the ambiguous morality that operates in shades of gray. But it's plain that this novel is about more than the plight of one spy, who must forsake his Chinese family in order to embed himself as a master translator for the CIA, becoming "China's ear to the heartbeat of the United States." In the process, he starts a second family, which knows nothing about the first, raising a daughter with his Irish-American wife. He also has a mistress, a Chinese-American woman to whom he relates and responds in the way he can't with his American wife and to whom he entrusts his diaries. Thus, the issues of love and loyalty that permeate the novel aren't merely political, but deeply personal. Narrating the novel is Lilian Shang, a scholar and the adult daughter of the late Gary Shang, convicted of treason in America, abandoned by his Chinese handlers, who receives the diaries from his lifelong mistress. Chapters in which Lilian learns about her father's first family in China and attempts to connect with them and bridge their related pasts alternate with chapters from Gary's perspective, in which he leaves his homeland and his family and earns (and betrays?) the trust of his adopted country, one in which the freedom of jazz and the mournful tone of Hank Williams speak to him deeply. "The two countries are like parents to me," he insists at his trial. "They are like mother and father, so as a son I can't separate the two and I love them both." Lilian ultimately discovers that such conflicting loyalties run deep in the bloodlines of her extended family. Subtle, masterful and bittersweet storytelling that operates on a number of different levels.
CIA agent Gary Shang was convicted of spying for China yet called himself "a patriot of both the United States and China." Decades after Gary's death, Lilian, his only child with his American wife, unexpectedly inherits his diary from his longtime mistress and discovers 30 years of his in-between existence. A Fulbright lectureship gives Lilian, now a middle-aged professor, the opportunity to teach a semester in China, where she finds her father's first family, whom he had been forced to abandon. Suddenly, Lilian is a sister and an aunt, which brings new responsibilities, realizations, and rewards. Like his exquisite National Book Award-winning Waiting, Jin's latest is a meticulous observation of a manipulated life only partially lived. Presenting dovetailing narratives that feature Gary's career from 1949 to 1979 and Lilian's contemporary search and subsequent revelations, he deftly plots a family history caught between uncompromising attachments and inevitable betrayals. Spy story it may be, but what lingers is the immeasurable human toll. VERDICT Jin's groupies might startle at the occasional raw language not usually found in the author's pages, but they won't be disappointed. Newbie readers will undoubtedly rejoice to discover Jin's unadorned, chilling Betrayal. [See Prepub Alert, 5/12/14.]—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
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Read an Excerpt
The spring semester started on February 15 at Beijing Teachers College. In my American history class, a survey course for undergrads, six or seven students were from Hong Kong and Taiwan. They didn’t stand out among their peers except that they spoke English better, not because they were smarter or better at memorizing the vocabulary and expressions but because they’d begun to learn the language in their childhood. Twenty years ago it had been unimaginable that such students would go to college in China. I gave lectures in a large room with sloped seating, and the class was always well attended. I noticed that many students were taking the course mainly to learn English, since they planned to go abroad for professional school or graduate work. One girl, an anthropology major, told me that her parents would pay for her tuition and living expenses if she was admitted by a decent graduate program in the States. I asked what her parents meant by a “decent” program, and she said, “At least a state’s flagship university, like Rutgers or UMass-Amherst. Any of the UC schools would be great too.” I was impressed by her parents’ savvy about American universities.
Many Chinese had quite a bit of cash now, in part because they spent mainly on food and didn’t pay property taxes. Of course, if you stepped off campus, you would encounter all kinds of people who struggled to scrape together a living. Not far from the school’s main entrance there was a job agency beside a billboard that advertised shampoo. Under the gargantuan ad, which displayed a charming female face smiling over a bottle spouting pink bubbles, migrant workers, young men and women who had just arrived from the countryside, would gather in the mornings, waiting to be picked up as day laborers or temporary hands who made five or six dollars a day. Some of them smoked and wisecracked, and some stared at the ground. If you went to the train or bus stations, you’d find people lolling around, and some of them were homeless.
I was also teaching a graduate seminar and met a group of fourteen students once a week for three hours. We discussed issues in Asian American history and culture. I’d taught both courses numerous times and could do them without much preparation, so I had a lot of time for my personal project of reconstructing my father’s story. These days Beijing’s atmosphere was tense because the government was nervous about the popular democratic movements in the Mideast and Africa. But on campus people could talk freely in private. I told a few colleagues about the impasse in my personal investigation. One of them was in the Philosophy Department, Professor Peng, an older man I had known for many years; he said I shouldn’t give up the hope of locating Bingwen Chu. Professor Peng believed we could track Chu down if he was still alive. Chu used to work in the Ministry of National Security, which must have a file on him. Given his age, he must have retired long ago, so there should be no rule forbidding him to meet with me. Professor Peng said that a former student of his was working in that ministry and might be able to help me. He called the young man, a junior official, and told me to go see him.
I went to the headquarters of the Ministry of National Security, which was a brownish seven-story building encircled by a high black steel fence. The sentry at the front gate phoned my contact inside, and the young official strolled out to meet me. He had a soft-skinned face and an urbane demeanor. I told him I was looking for an uncle of mine, which was true in a sense since Bingwen Chu had been my father’s longtime friend of some kind. I showed him Chu’s snapshot, which I had Xeroxed from The Chinese Spook. A photo was necessary because I was clueless about his real name. The young official was delighted to know I was teaching at his alma mater for the second time and to hear me speak decent Mandarin, a language I had never stopped learning since I was a child, so he was more than willing to help. He jotted down the information on Bingwen Chu and promised to get someone to look through the archives. He’d give me a ring if they found anything about the man.
He called at the end of February to tell me that Chu was living in a suburb of Beijing, in a residential compound for retired cadres. I phoned Chu that very evening, saying I was Gary Shang’s daughter from the United States and would love to see him. After a long pause, Chu said in a voice that suggested a clear head, “All right, I have plenty of time nowadays. Come any day you want to.”
We settled on the following Wednesday afternoon, since I’d teach only in the morning that day. Before visiting him, I reviewed some questions essential for reconstructing my father’s story. I took a taxi to Chu’s place, intimidated by the packed buses and subway. Two decades ago, when I was in my early thirties and teaching in Beijing, I’d ridden a bike or taken public transportation whenever I went out, but it was hard for me to do the same now, because the buses and trains were far too crowded and because I was no longer young.
Bingwen Chu was a small withered man with a bush of white hair and a face scattered with liver spots, but his eyes were still bright and alert. Given his age, eighty-seven, he was in good shape. He appeared at ease and glad to see me.
We were seated in his living room, its walls decorated with framed certificates of merit, all bearing the scarlet chop marks of the offices that had issued the commendations. After his youngest daughter, a forty-something, had served dragon well tea, he said to her, “Can you excuse Lilian and me for a moment?”
The stocky woman nodded and left without a word. Although he addressed me by my first name and I called him Uncle Bingwen, I felt a palpable barrier between us. He’d been my father’s sole handler for three decades, but not an unfailing friend. I reminded myself to be composed and that I was here mainly to ask him some questions. Chu allowed me to take notes but not to record our conversation. That was fine with me.
“Sure,” he said, “Gary and I were comrades-in-arms, also buddies. I was his recommender when he was inducted into the Party.”
“When was that?” I asked.
“The summer of . . . nineteen fifty-two—no, fifty-three. He was voted in unanimously.”
“Uncle Bingwen, in your opinion, was my dad a good Communist, a sincere believer?”
“Well, it’s hard to say. But I know this: he loved China and did a great service to our country.”
“So he was a patriot?”
“Beyond any doubt.”
“Did it ever occur to you that he might have loved the United States as well?”
“Yes. We read about that . . . in some newspaper articles on his trial. I could sympathize with him. No fish can remain . . . unaffected by the water it swims in. In a way, we have all been shaped . . . by forces bigger than ourselves.”
“That’s true. How often did you meet him?”
“On average, we met every two years. But sometimes we lost touch . . . due to China’s political chaos. Sometimes we met once a year.”
“Did he ever come back to China on the sly?”
“No, never. Our higher-ups wouldn’t let him . . . for fear of blowing his identity. Gary was always eager to return for a visit. He often said he was lonely and homesick. The people in the intelligence service all know . . . what those feelings are like. For his suffering, bravery, and fortitude, Gary had our utmost respect.”
“Then why didn’t China make any effort to rescue him when he was incarcerated in the States?”
“He was a special agent—the type we call ‘nails.’ ”
“Can you elaborate?”
Chu lifted his teacup and took a swallow, his mouth sunken. He seemed to have only a few teeth left. He said, “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. Gary must’ve known that. There was no help for it; it’s in the nature of our profession.”
I felt he was hedging by categorizing my father’s situation. Perhaps he couldn’t go into detail about his case, which involved some thorny issues, such as the diplomatic relationship between the two countries and Gary’s future usefulness or uselessness to China. I veered the conversation a bit, asking, “To the Chinese government, how big an agent was my dad?”
“Gary was in a class all his own, our highest-ranking spy.”
That was a shock. “But—he was a general merely on paper, wasn’t he?”
“Not at all. The intelligence he sent back . . . helped China make right decisions that were vital to our national security. Some of the information from Gary . . . went to Chairman Mao directly.”
“So for that he earned his due?”
“Yes. His rank was higher than mine, although he had started later and lower than me.” Chu paused as if to gather his strength. He resumed, “In intelligence circles, very few can reach the rank of general . . . purely by their abilities and contributions. Gary was an exception. He got promoted to general, well deserved. I couldn’t catch up with him.”
“You didn’t become a general?”
“I’d been a colonel . . . for more than twenty years before I retired. I thought they might give me the big promotion, but they did not, because I didn’t have enough pull and resources.”
“What do you mean by ‘resources’?”
“Basically money and wealth. You had to bribe the people in key positions. At any rate, Gary was different from the rest of us . . . and earned his promotions, granted directly from the top. To tell the truth, in the seventies, my colleagues would pronounce his name with reverence.”
“You mean they regarded him as a hero?”
“Also a legend.”
Again my father’s gaunt face appeared in my mind’s eye, but I suppressed it. I looked through my list of questions and asked again, “Uncle Bingwen, did you ever meet my father’s first wife, Yufeng Liu?”
His face fell as if I had hit a wrong note. He said, “I met her once, in nineteen sixty . . . when I went down to the countryside to attend . . . your grandfather’s funeral. We used to mail her money every month, but later we lost contact. She left their village in the early sixties. I have no idea where she is now . . . or if she’s still alive.”
“You have no information on her at all?”
“I have something.” He stood and went over to a bookcase. He pulled open a drawer, took out a spiral notebook, and tore off a page. “Here’s her old address in the countryside. Like I said, she relocated, so we stopped sending her Gary’s salary.”
I folded the paper and put it into my inner jacket pocket. “Why wouldn’t she let you know her new address so that she could get paid?” I asked.
“Money became worthless during the three famine years. I guess that could be a reason. Or maybe she got married again . . . and wouldn’t want to be tied to your dad legally anymore.”
We went on to talk about my father’s personal relationship with his handler. Chu insisted that the two of them had been bound together “like a pair of grasshoppers on one string.” It was Gary’s role as a top agent in the enemy’s heart, the CIA, that helped Chu, Gary’s sole handler, survive the political shifts and consolidate his position in intelligence circles in Beijing. For that he was still grateful to my father. In his view Gary was undoubtedly a hero, whose deeds all the Chinese should remember.
Chu seemed to be carried away by his remembrances, growing warmer and chattier as he went on. Evidently he had few opportunities to speak his mind like this. While I was wondering if it was time to take my leave, he said, “Do you know . . . you have some half siblings?”
“My father mentioned them in his diary. But he spent only a few weeks with Yufeng before he left home. Are you sure they’re his children?”
Chu chuckled. “Absolutely. Yufeng gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, in the fall of 1949. I told your father about them. The two kids really took after him.”
His words, though casually said, struck me, and my cheeks heated up. I had known about my half siblings but questioned their paternity. Something like a wash of shame crept over me as I realized I had unconsciously attempted to distance my half siblings from our father ever since I came to know of their existence. Before saying good-bye, I held Chu’s blotchy hand with both of mine and thanked him for speaking to me.
Now I was more determined than ever to find my father’s first family.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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A fascinating tale related in 1st and 3rd persons giving insight into China’s #1 spy in America, over a thirty year time period, as related by his daughter who, upon his death, is given his diaries by his mistress. An interesting psychological study of the whom and the why behind espionage conducted by a country, China, exceedingly well-known these days but still a mystery to most of us — me included. Certainly, I appreciated the many insights the author provides into China’s past and present, its economical ups and downs, its mistakes made, its impetus for doing a lot of the things it has done and is likely to do. A far more enjoyable way of understanding that country’s complicated relationships with the West, and with its neighbors Korea and Viet Nam, than would be the case of wading through some dull university text. Recommended to anyone and everyone out to discover reading material on a subject matter not likely to be covered as entertainingly elsewhere.