Summary and book reviews of A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

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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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2014, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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 "...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why do you think the author has chosen a double narrative for this novel? Why do you think Lilian's story is told in the first person, while Gary's is told in third?

  2. Compare Gary's relationships with the three women in his life—Nellie, Suzie, and Yufeng. Do you think Gary is idealizing his first wife and his love for his first country, or do you think his memories are accurate?

  3. Does Gary betray one or both countries? How does he navigate his obligations to all the women in his life (wives, girlfriend, and his daughter)? Where do his love and loyalty ultimately lie?

  4. How do Ben's beliefs about patriotism compare with his actions throughout the novel?

  5. Is Gary a sympathetic character? Are Lilian and Ben? With whom...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Ha Jin's protagonist is a frustratingly malleable man, battered by the forces of history into a bare shell of a person, and barely recognizable even to himself. Yet it is to Jin's credit that he brilliantly captures the emotional angst of a man who is caught between two hard choices...continued

Full Review (804 words).

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(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.

Library Journal
Starred Review. 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.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Subtle, masterful and bittersweet storytelling that operates on a number of different levels.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Ping Pong Diplomacy

In A Map of Betrayal, Gary Shang is always looking for ways to bring the two countries he loves, China and the United States, together. He claims to be one of the prime drivers for a coup that has come to be called Ping Pong diplomacy, a series of table tennis (ping pong) games between the two countries that signaled a thaw in relations.

Ivor MontaguInterestingly enough, the game of ping pong and political machinations share roots going back to the early twentieth century, when an English-born Soviet communist spy, Ivor Montagu, took a fascination for the game and was instrumental in creating the International Table Tennis Federation. Convinced that the sport was just what communist countries around the world needed to improve their cold image, he ...

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