The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius – a review

I have long been a connoisseur of spy novels. John Le Carre, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming… you name it and I’ve most probably read it. Therefore it is the name of the novel itself that attracted me to read David Ignatius’ The Quantum Spy. Having never read anything else by Ignatius, I was skeptical going in. Boy, was I surprised !

The Quantum Spy gives an (I hope exaggerated) insight into the technological race between USA, the frontrunner of pretty much everything in the world, and China, aspiring global power numero uno. The focus here is on Quantum Computing, the holy grail of high speed, high efficiency computing that no one has been able to perfect (yet). Both these countries are fighting tooth and nail, spending exorbitant amounts of money and doing unspeakable unthinkable things just to be the first to achieve this goal.

I quite enjoyed the character sketches put forth by Ignatius. Without exception, they are all flawed, which makes them extremely interesting. Harris Chang is a very likeable protagonist, battling inner and outer demons at once, the most blatant one being racism. It is a running theme that no one from both countries can look past his skin colour. The Chinese see an overseas Chinese man, who in their mind, is fundamentally Chinese, though in an American Costume. The Americans just see a Chinese man, whose loyalties are in doubt in lieu of his skin colour. While he starts out as a patriotic American man, a war veteran no less, towards the end, there is a duality in him that is quite appealing. The  main antagonist (that is probably too strong a word), is almost the same. Although in this person’s case, marginalisation rather than racism is the main issue. This person’s actions are justified as having been done for the greater good, which is a little trite. But the portrayal never comes across as dull. Same is true of all the characters.

The story lines blend seamlessly into one another. The complex inner workings of the CIA and the MSS made for very engaging reading. I did find the prose a little unsophisticated in certain places, especially in the beginning, but it seemed to repair itself as the novel went along. All in all, I would characterise it as a surprisingly delightful one-time read.

Messages from old loves

It isn’t often that an old love returns to you (I don’t mean literally comes back to you, just getting in touch, catching up, whatever). Maybe it is more prevalent in this era of social networking and face timing but it still isn’t that often. I sometimes feel that even with a hundred modes of keeping in touch with people, we lose contact with them almost instantly after they leave our immediate vicinity. The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has never rung truer.

In such an era, when an old love does contact you after many long years, maybe even decades, what feeling does that Conjure in you ? Is it disinterest ? Is it happy eagerness to catch up with them after a long time ? Is it an anticipation laced with a mild anxiety about the possible awkwardness of the situation ? Or is it a mix of all of the above ?

This has been happening to me with increasing frequency over the past few years. Old boyfriends, people I once considered dating, people with whom I had mutual unstated crushes etc have been climbing back up from the mental abyss I sent them to, to say hello. Often, these interactions are incredibly funny, some of these people I was a child with (now that I’m an old fart, I call past-mes and past-thems children of course) have their own children now. It is interesting to see how our lives have mutated and branched out, gives a unique perspective on the passage of time. Most of the time this ‘coming back to life’ of old flames is amusing, barring a couple of oddballs who make you a little uncomfortable, make you rack your brain for a single reason why you even considered going out with them (lol).

Then there is the one that unsettles you a bit, makes you wonder if there are any embers left in what you have long considered to be a cold hearth. It is that one that prompted this post today. We haven’t spoken since we broke up almost three years ago. Even then it was a very brief affair which we jokingly referred to as Stockholm syndrome at the time (brief and torrid, the kind that gives you butterflies in the stomach when you think back to it). I’m not looking to start up anything. We live in different continents now, and I have a particularly terrible track record in long distance relationships, not to mention it was the long distance factor that ended it in the first place. I just keep echoing in my mind, a general wonderment that he voiced, if  we had done things a little differently, would it have lasted? Of course, that is neither here nor there, it was a long time ago, que sera sera etc.