Without love there can be no betrayal—love of a country, a brother, a wife, a platoon mate, a family. Granta #122
Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal depicts the course of an affair. But it does so with a twist. The play begins at the end of the affair and moves backwards, scene by scene, to the point where it began, as the lovers become younger and desire becomes more erotically charged.
In this way, Pinter poses an important question: If you knew the outcome of your act of betrayal, would you still make it? In the recent issue of “Granta” (#122), 12 writers approach this question from different perspectives. They include:
Janine Di Giovanni in “Seven Days in Syria,” in which she describes how the government is betraying its people. In “Abington Square” Andre Aciman lingers long and mournfully about his cafe encounters with a cryptic, flirting woman. Jennifer Vanderbes’ story, “A Brief History of Fire,” depicts the several affairs of a woman who lived deep in the forest at a fire lookout station.
Granta, also asked the contributors to to briefly define the word “betrayal” and its implications. The most common understanding of the term refers to a liaison outside of a marriage or close relationship. But the term has a much broader application, as illustrated in the issue and the author’s definitions.
Mohsin Hamid views betrayal very generally as pain and also as education. A person you love shows you life isn’t the way you expected it to be. Yet he says, “Sometimes it is a blessing.”
Karen Russell points out that the powerful effects of an act of betrayal are often just as much a surprise to the traitor as to the victim. Several of the writers look back on their personal experiences in giving meaning to the term. The war correspondent Janie di Giovanni describes some of the people who let her down during the war in Iraq. One of the worst was an man she had befriended, who she later found out was an informant for Saddam Hussein.
John Burnside writes, “Banks, politicians, the legal system, corporations, broadcasters, advertisers, the police, any government-supported watchdog or ‘standard agency’ and even NGOs—the list of traitors seems endless…”
Finally I think Samantha Harvey offers up the most widespread understanding of the term. “We think of betrayal as the point at which one, who is loved and respected, fails the other, who loves and respects. I wonder if it is really only the point at which we realize that we have been asking for something that the other could never give? In other words, that we see we have been believing in false gods.”
There are also those far less serious acts of betrayals that occur in the world of sports and widely reported in the press: Lance Armstrong confessing he doped in his Tour de France races, baseball players admitting they took steroids during their playing days.
And what about all those Boston Red Sox players who betrayed their devoted followers by signing with other teams after their 2004 World Series victory—Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, etc? And then there are all the treacherous acts of the Red Sox management who consistently trade away of their legendary stars, often to their “arch-enemy” the Yankees beginning as early as Babe Ruth. That single trade led only to the Curse of the Bambino that for 86 years, from 1918 to 2004, prevented the Red Sox from winning the World Series.
From the green playing field of Fenway Park to the bedrooms of Tribeca, all the way to the alleyways of Damascus, the world of betrayal is immense.