Excerpt from A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Map of Betrayal

by Ha Jin

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin X
A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2014, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Excerpt
A Map of Betrayal

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.

Excerpted from A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin. Copyright © 2014 by Ha Jin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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