Ha Jin examines the struggle of a Chinese spy torn between his homeland and his new American life in A Map of Betrayal. I found Ha Jin when I read his stunning portrayal of Chinese life in Waiting; he has the ability to transport the reader to China with his detailed descriptions and his emotional observations. In A Map of Betrayal Ha Jin creates a stirring inner conflict with the story of Gary Shang, the most important Chinese spy who infiltrated the CIA.
Lillian Shang, an American professor, discovers her father’s diaries detailing his secret past, separated from a wife and children in China, before he established his cover in the United States and married her American mother. Working for China, Shang constantly looked for a way to satisfy his yearning to return home, yet his ties through his new family and connections created a conflict of emotions and loyalties. Lillian returns to China to find his family, as Ha Jin slowly unravels a past full of history and intrigue.
Prominent names – Kennedy, Nixon, Kissinger, Chiang Kai-Shek, Mao – float through the narrative as the author connects the politics of the times to Gary Shang’s journey from lowly translator to astute analyst and secret arbiter for both countries. Ha Jin attributes a number of détente agreements, including renewed relations between China and the United States, to Shang’s secret efforts.
Although the detailed descriptions can be overwhelming at times, reading through them gives the reader the history to create an effective backdrop for Shang’s life. When the plot turns to reveal another generation of spies, Ha Jin follows the current attitudes between countries. The ending offers a clear perspective and poses the question: Is the man betraying the country or the country betraying the man?
A Map of Betrayal takes careful reading to catch all the nuances, but a worthwhile book to contemplate and possibly discuss.
Related Review: Waiting
Anita Diamant uses legacy writing as her vehicle for telling the story of The Boston Girl. As she tells her granddaughter about her life from 1915 to 1985, Addie Baum, a young Jewish girl growing up in the North End of Boston, could be any first generation girl from immigrant parents. As Addie slowly recounts the milestones in her life, the story takes a while to pick up steam, but her determination to overcome the low expectations for women in the early twentieth century, and her subsequent experiences, offer an insider history lesson worth reviewing.
Like most bright women of that era, Addie has to fight for opportunities to learn and work in traditionally male-dominated venues. But the value of her telling her life story to her granddaughter has more to do with revealing who she is and preserving a legacy for future generations. Addie’s friends and mentors would be invisible otherwise, and her story lost when she dies. When Addie’s granddaughter expresses surprise that her mother was the valedictorian at her college graduation, the incident clearly demonstrates how little children and grandchildren know us – unless we tell them.
Just like the Biblical heroines in her book The Red Tent, Diamant uses women as the storytellers who are preserving history. The Boston Girl is an easy, comfortable book and it offers a familiar perspective on women’s history, but perhaps the underlying directive to tell your unique story before it is lost is the greater message to readers.
Have you participated in legacy writing as the listener/recorder or the story teller?
Related Article: Legacy Writing
Although I tend toward novels, preferring to immerse myself in imaginary characters and plots, periodically I accidentally find a nonfiction book to read. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers is at the top of my recommended list, and biographies of Cleopatra or one of the Roosevelts can always transport me.
Recently, I happened upon Bill Gates’ list of books on his blog gatesnotes – some fiction, but mostly nonfiction. Gates organizes his books by category: Most Recent, Title, Reviewed, Science and Technology,Business, Philanthropy, Politics and Policy, Heroes and Gamechangers, Saving Lives, Energy, Education – and he has read them all.
Although I did not relate to his reviews, I found two familiar titles of books I’d read and enjoyed: Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Just reading the list gave me a perspective on Bill Gates.
I also got some ideas for books to read – maybe you will too. A few I plan to order from the library include:
- One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs
- Tap Dancing to Work by Warren Buffett
- The Man Who Fed the World by Leon Hesser
Moonwalking with Einstein