Latham, Aaron. Orchids for Mother. New York: Little, Brown, 1977.
Aaron Latham has written seven books, only two of them novels. Of the two novels, only one can be categorized in the espionage genre. Nonetheless, Orchids for Mother stands as one of the major American contributions to the genre.
The novel focuses on the competition between two rising stars in the C.I.A. Francis Xavier Kimball, whose code name is “Mother,” directs counter-intelligence and heads the Israeli desk. His nemesis is Ernest O’Hara, director of covert operations. Just before the Watergate scandal becomes a major media story, Kimball devises a scandal that ruins both the Secretary of State and the Director of the C.I.A. But the scheme backfires when President Nixon selects O’Hara to serve as Director. O’Hara and Kimball then become obsessed with ruining each other’s careers, with some very nearly catastrophic results in terms of the political and military uses of intelligence. O’Hara finally forces Kimball to resign, but Kimball is so determined with bringing O’Hara down with him that he arranges to have himself murdered in a manner that will throw suspicion on O’Hara. The plan works, and O’Hara is forced to step down.
Some critics have panned the novel for its outlandish characterizations of intelligence operatives and for so thoroughly personalizing conflicts within the intelligence community. Although it does reflect the general skepticism of its period about the morality and even the efficacy of intelligence operations, the novel remains a tour de force.
Lederer, William Julius, and Eugene Burdick. The Ugly American. New York: Norton, 1958.
After serving almost thirty years in the U.S. Navy, William J. Lederer contributed to the Reader’s Digest as their Far Eastern correspondent from 1958 to 1963. His preparation for this position included a year spent as a Fellow with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, while he was still in the Navy. Although Lederer would produce almost a dozen and a half books, he seems to have seized on subjects of interest without much concern about building anything approaching a coherent body of work. Most of his books have been nonfiction, and their subjects have ranged from a guide to cross-country skiing to a self-help book on building a strong marriage.
It has been a matter of some dispute whether Joe Lansdale, a legendary American operative in Southeast Asia during the 1950s, provided the model for Pyle in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (1955). But Lederer and Burdick have acknowledged that his exploits provided a factual model for the activities of their fictional protagonist in The Ugly American. Set in the Southeast Asian nation of Sarkhan, clearly a fiction Vietnam, the novel provides exemplar American volunteer in an engineer named Homer Atkins, who genuinely tries to understand the impoverished people of the countryside and to devise projects that will meet their needs and improve their lives. But almost every other American illustrates the ugliness—the confidence in their own superiority and of the inferiority of other cultures–that Americans project to foreigners while ostensibly trying to transfer their values. Ironically, the phrase “ugly American” actually refers in the novel to Homer Atkins, who is rather homely.
More than any other book, this novel has forced Americans to look more critically at themselves and at their overseas ventures.
Lee, Chang-rae. Native Speaker. New York: Putnam/Riverhead, 1995.
The critical reception of Native Speaker gave Chang-rae Lee a sudden stature as one of the most promising novelists of his generation and as one of the major voices in Korean-American fiction. For the novel, Lee received the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Fiction and the 1995 Discover Award. In addition, Native Speaker was named a finalist for the 1995 Oregon Best Book Award; the ALA Reference Service Association included the novel on its list of “Notable Books 1993-1996”; and the literary journal Granta included Lee in its list of the 50 best American writers under the age of 40.
The main character of Native Speaker is Henry Park, a still young Korean-American who is employed by a for-profit agency that specializes in ethnic and racial investigations. At a point when Park’s few personal relationships have each in some way reached a crisis, he is assigned to infiltrate the organization of a popular Korean-American city councilman from Flushing who is being talked about as a possible New York mayoral candidate. Eventually, Park’s deception is revealed, and he is forced to face fundamental issues about his identity quite apart from his occupation.
Previous Posts in This Series:
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/