[This review contains spoilers.]
The title of The Betrayal refers to three different treacherous acts, each of a varying combination of personal and political significance for the family of Laotian subject Thavisouk Phrasavath. The first is the United States’ expedient use of Laos during the Vietnam War, when the American military and CIA backed anticommunist forces in that country (while bombing it to smithereens) before pulling out and leaving Laos to the mercy of Communist Pathet Lao, who proceeded to purge and “reeducate” those who had been loyal to the United States. Phrasavath’s father was one of many Royal Army intelligence agents considered a traitor and abandoned and forgotten by America.
His imprisonment under the Lao regime convinces the Phrasavath family in 1981 to move, ironically enough, to the U.S., where, thrown by their sponsors into a Flatbush ghetto in Brooklyn, they find not the American dream but a blighted urban war zone beset by drugs, gangs, and daily violence. With the family tearing apart due to the strain of their environment and the lure the streets hold for the young children of the clan—who are unable to relate to their mother’s perceived out of touch Eastern values—a last hope arrives when their father resurfaces after having been thought dead. A happy reunion ensues for a couple of days before he drops a bombshell: another family he had started while left behind in Laos and an imminent move to live with them in Florida. The series of betrayals becomes increasingly more personal until this last wrenching infidelity, a disavowal of responsibility so shocking and yet so much the result of impossible circumstances that it becomes the final, perhaps inevitable, disappointment of so many years of disappointments, the point at which the Phrasavaths must give up all dreams of ever becoming whole.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin's review of The Betrayal.