Time’s Betrayal

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Published by: Fomite Press
Release Date: October 1, 2017
Pages: 1170
ISBN13: 978-1944388133


Time’s Betrayal is an epic multigenerational family saga covering the years from the battle of Antietam to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Touching on elements in John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy and John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, the novel chronicles a son’s search for a larger-than-life father, a CIA agent who disappeared in the early fifties, leaving behind a distraught wife and lovers, not to mention a Pandora’s box of devastating secrets and unanswered questions that baffled all who investigated his fate—a fate as beguiling as it is mysterious.  This is also a story about the crumbling edifice of the eastern Establishment after World War II and in Vietnam-era America. A poignant coming-of-age tale, it is related though the eyes of Peter Alden, whose school days are shattered when he overhears a conversation about his father from two CIA colleagues: how John Alden, a world-famous archaeologist turned OSS and CIA officer, who vanished through Checkpoint Charlie, may have been a traitor.

Opening in New England during the late 1960s and set amid the idyllic Berkshire summer homes of the Alden and Williams clans, founders of the prestigious powerhouse school Winsted, incubator of famous statesmen and CIA operatives, Time’s Betrayal takes the reader on a far-flung journey from the abolitionist Civil War era to Nazi-occupied Greece and to London during the Blitz, to the darkest days of the Cold War and Vietnam, to Prague during the Velvet Revolution, and timeless Venice.  More than just an insider’s chronicle of America’s postwar ascendency and ensuing decline—and the betrayals of love and principle that come in the wake of blind ambition—Time’s Betrayal portrays the agonized compromises to America’s founding ideals as glimpsed through the privileged lives of the country’s best and brightest.


Tapping into spy thriller territory, and the KGB penetration of American secrets by Kim Philby and the Cambridge Five, the narrative unfolds through a series of engrossing, if agonizing, love stories that cross the boundaries of generations in ways both profoundly unsettling and deeply moving. Although Time's Betrayal is a literate genre-bender and suspenseful page-turner full of twists and turns, the novel is really about how family history shapes who we are and how memory—the river of Time—guides our joint destinies, testing our most cherished hopes, shaping who we are and what we believe, and teaching us that the essential truths of our humanity—freedom, justice, love, and honor—must be reclaimed in every generation.

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“With this monumental work David Cleveland has achieved nothing less than the disinterment of the various skeletons of the American psyche from the Civil War to Vietnam and beyond, and the painting of a multi-generational portrait of a pedigreed American family whose own skeletons not only refuse to stay buried, but actively haunt its progeny. There will be those who, captivated by the author’s brilliant insights into the inner workings of the CIA, KGB and M16, and by a canvas that stretches from New England to Prague and Greece to Southeast Asia, will describe Time’s Betrayal as an international spy novel, which it is, if only in the sense that Moby-Dick is a yarn about a big fish and Huckleberry Finn a tale of a boy on a raft. But this is not Ludlum, folks, nor is it LeCarré. It is in a league of its own and a class by itself. Time’s Betrayal is a large-hearted American epic that deserves the widest possible, most discriminating of readerships.”
—Bruce Olds, Pulitzer Prize–nominated author for Raising Holy Hell and The Moments Lost

Time’s Betrayal is a vast, rich, endlessly absorbing novel engaging with the great and enduring theme of literary art, the quest for an identity. Moreover, it seamlessly expands that quest beyond the individual to the family, to the nation. Time’s Betrayal achieves a rare state for massively ambitious novels: it is both complex and compelling. David Adams Cleveland has instantly taken a prominent place on my personal list of must-read authors.”
—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“It is an oddity of history that the early CIA--a world of deceit and betrayal--was dominated by New England prep school grads whose chief cultural values, supposedly, were decency and fair play.  In Time's Betrayal, David Cleveland takes us into this world in his sweeping, ambitious novel. With drama and flair, he follows the true, if crooked path, of the human heart. It makes for a compelling and provocative read.”
—Evan Thomas, Author of The Very Best Men: the Early Years of the CIA

“How are our lives unknowingly motivated by our ancestral past? In its scope, artistry, and depiction of the interlinked cause-and-effect patterns spanning more than a century, Cleveland's (Love's Attraction, 2013) third novel raises the bar for multi-generational epics. At its heart is one man's quest to uncover the truth about his late father, John Alden III, who disappeared behind the Iron Curtain in 1953 for reasons unknown. . . . The expansive yet tightly controlled narrative, in which numerous mysteries are compellingly unearthed, spins out to encompass post-WWII Greece, the race to decipher the ancient Greek script known as Linear B, the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall's dismantling, and a Civil War battle's aftermath. The writing is gripping throughout, incorporating both haunting lyricism in its characters' yearning to recapture a lost golden age and a high-stakes tension evoking the best Cold War thrillers. Cleveland is particularly strong in presenting the complicated entanglements of love and betrayal and the barrier between freedom and oppression that each generation contends with. While its length may appear daunting, this unforgettable tour de force is well worth the time.”
—Sarah Johnson, Booklist, Starred Review

“The author's 'previous' with regard to Venice earns him his review here regardless of the amount of the action that takes place there. His first two novels also earn him my unhesitant trust that this one's 1165 pages will be worth the considerable investment of time and muscle strain. It shares its daunting length roughly with The Lord of the Rings, War and Peace and Infinite Jest, for examples. The book begins with Peter Alden, through whose eyes and life we view the unfolding, at high school and beginning to question the certainties of his life, family and country. The school's history is all mixed up with his family's, they having been its founders - a history which then gets embroiled in wars, archaeology, art, and the history of the CIA and the wider world of spies and lies, including the Cambridge Four - Kim Philby looms large. Also scandals both literary and sexual. And through it all Venice is a constant background shimmer of remembered visits and gossip, with Greece a tempting and glowing presence too, in a paler blue light. The later chapters of the novel spent in Venice are effortlessly evocative, and include an important scene in the Madonna dell' Orto in front of the Bellini Madonna and Child, mere years before it was stolen. The plot's central concern with spies and lies has earned this novel comparison to the works of John Le Carre, but this book has a much wider sweep. It's a wide-screen detailed tapestry of American and European history, centred on WWII and its aftermath, and taking in the American Civil War, civil rights, Ancient Greece, the Vietnam war and the decoding of Linear B. And through it all the story probes the complex boundaries between truth and fiction, and the limits of self-invention. One can't help but be impressed by the bravery involved in the writing and publishing of such a big and deep book, when attention spans are anecdotally said to be ever shrinking. I read it in a little over two weeks, but as a retired person I have plenty of free time to devote to curling up with an exceptional book - a deeply satisfying and involving novel, well worth the expenditure of time, that ends up leaving you wanting more!”
—Jeff Cotton, Fictional Cities

“This is the best book I've read all year, and I've read many excellent ones.  It's also the longest novel I've read, ever, but, after reading the first 100 pages, I was hooked and eagerly looking forward to the next thousand. I took a week off in mid-August, planning to catch up on work around the house and read maybe 100 pages a day so I'd have it finished by the deadline. Instead, I spent a good part of the week with this book and don't regret it.  (It does move quickly.) . . . there's so much more that could be said. I could also note that there are two strong and multi-faceted female characters, and multiple complicated love affairs, and that the storyline delves deeply into the real-life history of the Cambridge Five spy ring who passed secrets to the Soviets up through the 1950s. I never considered Cold War thrillers to be my type of book, but this novel was. What to compare it to?  For the family saga aspect and mysteries related to it, it would appeal to Kate Morton's fans, although it's more ambitious than even her novels.  It should be on the radar of readers of spy thrillers, obviously. It's also a moving coming-of-age tale. Best of all is seeing how the multiple story lines, characters, and time periods come together.  The book arrived with glowing blurbs from Robert Olen Butler and Bruce Olds, the latter of whom had said, among other things, "It is in a league of its own and a class by itself," which is true. I can't think of another novel quite like it.”
—Sarah Johnston, Reading the Past

“This novel covers four generations of the Alden family from the Civil War through the 20th century. It opens in 1965, when Peter is a student at the prep school founded by his prominent New England family. Here he begins his decades-long search to learn about the father he never knew. In 1953 Peter’s father disappeared into communist East Berlin and was never seen again. The story moves between Peter’s great grandfather, a Civil War hero; his grandfather, a doctor in WWI; his father, a renowned archaeologist who served in WWII as an OSS agent, then a CIA agent; and Peter, whose search lasts into the 1990s. Through his father’s colleagues, acquaintances, writings, letters, diary entries, Stasi files, and newspaper clippings, Peter pieces together who his father was, and his fate. He uncovers family secrets, lies, betrayals, spy scandals, and illicit love affairs.

This is a literary page-turner with many philosophical themes running throughout. The narrative is nonlinear, with details revealed in pieces as the reader is brought back and forth in time and place: the Berkshires, Vienna, Prague, Greece, London, Vietnam. It is a challenging read to pull all the scattered pieces together into a cohesive story, and I feel I lost some while wading through the volume of detail. The writing is outstanding yet overburdened with too much flowery description that does little to move the story along: “…the templed slopes beribboned with streamers of amethyst light, the lichen-spangled marble of the ancient sanctuaries showing in silvery blue planes of cubist jottings, while the walls and stony contours of the ancient town began to merge as one moiré stain on the twilight.” Despite these drawbacks, I enjoyed the book. It is a worthwhile read for anyone who loves to lose themselves in a big book and willing to make the investment in time and effort.”
—Janice Ottersberg, Historical Novel Society