Family Secrets and Espionage in “A Map of Betrayal”
Ha Jin’s riveting novel A Map of Betrayal explores the complicated ties and loyalties between two countries. The story begins when Lilian Shang, who was born and raised in the U.S., discovers her father’s diary that reveals her father’s secrets. Apparently, her father Gary was the most important Chinese spy the CIA ever caught, but her heart is broken when she realizes how his double life tore his heart in two pieces. Gary’s story leads her to China where she comes face-to-face with his long-abandoned family and is forced to confront uncomfortable truths about the nature of secrets that are passed down from generation to generation.
While A Map of Betrayal allows readers to immerse themselves in a new culture and has some thrilling moments worthy of a James Bond flick, the heart of the tale is a man torn between the home he’s always known and the country in which he lives in now. Gary’s internal conflict and guilt is absolutely riveting; you can’t help but get sucked into his world even as they debate over the nature of his actions. Yet even Gary feels hope and love, especially for his daughter Lilian, and there’s a strong sense of fatherly pride whenever he looks at her.
While Jin’s writing is fairly direct and forthright, he also does an excellent job at capturing a particular slice of America and China’s history during the Cold War. But most importantly, A Map of Betrayal is spy thriller with complexity, showing how little we know about the people we think know us best.